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- V.-. 


Sexual Assault 

Winter 1994 

Written by Shirley Pettifer & Janet Torge 

Original manuscript: Marilyn Bicher & Shirley Pettifer 

Project liaison: Donna Cherniak 

Photo coordination: Judith Lermer Crawley 

Front Cover and back cover: Judith Lermer Crawley 

Administration: Eileen Young & Corina Crawley 

Published by the Montreal Health Press/ les Presses de la sante de Montreal, Inc. 

(1973), an independent non-profit corporation. 

Members of the Montreal Health Press: Donna Cherniak, Marilyn Bicher, Judith Lermer 

Crawley, Miryam Gerson. 

Honorary members: Shirley L. Pettifer & Janet Torge 


Copyright 1994 by Montreal Health Press, Inc. 

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Page 3 


Sexual assault has been a hushed and secret 
experience for much of human history. Countless 
women have been its victims and countless more are 
restricted by the fear of it happening to them. 

Part I of Sexual Assault looks at rape as a private 
and personal experience. The practical information 
in this section should help women and children 
recognize and prevent situations where they might 
be victimized. It discusses the needs of the assault 
victim and her friends and family should rape occur. 
Though these concerns may be short term, they are 
intense and can have long term consequences. 

In Part II we look at the big picture: Why does rape 
happen? What beliefs do we hold about rape, its 
victims and assailants? We look at the origins of the 
popular beliefs held about rape, at the socialization 
process of boys and girls today, and at the functions 
rape serves in our society. These theoretical issues 
permit us to step back from the crisis situations and 
get a perspective on the social structures which allow 
rape to persist. They provide a basis for group 
discussion in classrooms, in the training of medical 
and legal personnel, etc. They are the source of 
potential actions for social change. 

The Montreal Health Press first addressed the 
issues of sexual assault in 1979. Since that time we 
have witnessed attitude and legal changes which 
our revisions take into account. 

For instance, men and children are now recognized 
as potential victims of sexual assault. However, we 
focus mainly on women because violence is still 
primarily directed toward them. 

As attitudes change, so does language. The word 
"rape" is frequently replaced by the term "sexual 
assault". We continue to use both words inter- 
changeably in our text because "rape" is still used in 
the criminal codes of many states in the U.S. and is 
also common in everyday language. For many people, 
the word "rape" has an emotional impact, expressing 
the ugliness of the event; sexual assault is a more 
recent term, now being used in legal codes, to 
acknowledge that the act is primarily one of violence. 

Concerns expressed by women and by groups 
familiar with the experience of assault victims are 
reflected in some of the new legislation in Canada and 
some states in the U.S. The ability to have our voices 
heard and translated into laws is a small, but important 
step toward social change. 

It is encouraging to see that women and children 
are being taught to deal assertively with situations of 
potential danger. There is less acceptance that the 
victim role is the only choice for women. 

At the same time, however, there is a growth of the 
pornography industry which often promotes rape as 
erotic "entertainment". We still see court rulings 
where judges condemn women for being in the wrong 
place at the wrong time, implying that the victim is 
responsible for the offence. 

The overall picture of sexual violence is becoming 
clearer and a matter of public concern. But there is 
still a long way to go before sexual coercion is a rare 
occurrence and healthy, happy sexual encounters are 
the norm. 

As with our books on birth control, sexually 
transmitted diseases and menopause, Sexual 
Assault aims to inform people on issues of health 
and sexuality. People with access to compre- 
hensive, non-judgmental, easy-to-read information 
are better prepared to make decisions to exercise 
control, to effectively deal with problems that affect 
their lives. Sexual Assault is another Montreal 
Health Press effort to share this goal with you. 

table of contents 

introduction 3 

types of sexual assault 4 

part I: dealing with sexual assault 5 

prevention 5 

self-defence for women 9 

the assault 10 

after an assault 11 

new assault laws in Canada 20 

psychological impact of sexual assault 22 

part II: sexual assault in society 25 

popular beliefs about rape victims 26 

popular beliefs about rapists 32 

origins of popular beliefs 35 

socialization 38 

functions of sexual assault 41 

conclusion: social change — 47 

Page 4 

types of sexual 

Legal definitions of rape and sexual assault often 
exclude the experience of most women. We look at a 
much broader variety of sexual assaults and at some 
of the locations where they occur. Our information is 
compiled from the following sexual assault scenarios. 

Date rape: In this type of sexual assault, both 
parties have initially chosen to be together. There may 
even be sexual overtones and expectations. But at 
some point during the "date", there is coercion by the 
man in response to the woman's resistance or refusal 
to engage in sexual activity. Recent studies and our 
own investigations concur that date rape is the most 
common, and least reported, type of assault. Victims 
are often reluctant to seek help and tend to view the 
experience as a private and personal matter — one of 
the risks involved in dating. Men might even admit to 
forcing themselves on a woman, and often feel justified 
if she consented on other occasions or seemed 
sexually responsive earlier in the encounter. 

Marriage: Marriage does not preclude the possibility 
that a woman can be sexually assaulted by her 
husband. In Canada and in some states in the U.S., the 
legal code was recently revised to include sexual 
assault within marriage as a crime. Most countries still 
stipulate the husband's conjugal rights and do not 
recognize rape within marriage. Legally, the wife does 
not have the right to say "no"; she gives her sexual 
consent once and for all in the marriage ceremony. 
Whether or not it is recognized as a crime, assault 
within marriage is a problem which is beginning to 
surface. The extent of the problem is still unknown, 
since women are reluctant (and often discouraged by 
the authorities) to press charges against their 

Sexual harassment: Sexual harassment is 
unwanted and repeated sexual advances usually by 
a person who has power or authority over another. 
This widespread problem is experienced by close to 
50% of women in school or work situations. 
Harassment can take many forms — from touching, 
fondling and lewd comments to coercive sexual 
intercourse. What is common in every case is a fear 
that confrontation or denial of the request can mean 
loss of employment, failing grades or poor medical 
care. Because victims of sexual harassment often 
feel that they precipitated the advances, 
confrontation is difficult. Growing public awareness 
has prompted many companies and institutions to 
create policies to deal with sexual harassment. 
Publicizing these policies not only makes people 
more aware of their rights and obligations, but also 
may lower the incidence of sexual assault. 

Assault by a stranger: This is rape by a person or 
persons unknown to the victim. The victim may be 
stalked on the street, cornered in her own home, 
grabbed while waiting for the bus, etc. Although this is 
the most feared type of assault, it is the least common. 
Women are more likely to report assault by a stranger 

but this type of assault accounts for less than 10% of 
all rapes. The preoccupation with assault by a stranger 
serves to poorly prepare women and children to deal 
with the vast majority of sexual assaults they do 
encounter — on dates, at parties, by members of one's 
own family — by people known and often trusted by 
the victim. 

Child sexual abuse: This refers to situations 
where children are sexually coerced by adults for 
sexual gratification and profit. Kidnapping, sexual 
assault and occasional killing of children have 
become common fears among parents in Canada 
and the United States. Children are presented as 
objects of sexual desire in some pornography. The 
coercion of children into the world of prostitution is 
only slightly less alarming than the fact that there is 
a market demand for them. These situations have 
made parents aware that children need to be 
informed about child sexual abuse and about their 
right to refuse sexual demands, even from adults 
they love and trust. 

One of the most prevalent forms of child sexual 
abuse is incest. For the purposes of our book, we 
define incest as coercive sexual relations between 
children (most often girls) and older family members, 
usually in positions of authority. Often these occur- 
rences are repeated on a regular basis and are hidden 
from other family members by the use of threats and 
fear of exposure. Though abhorrent to most in our 
society, the incidence of incest is alarming (see page 
42). Prosecution is rare, because of the problems it 
creates within the family, and because the victims are 
often under the age of 16 and have little credibility in 
court. (Note: we do not consider the innocent sexual 
experimentation that often occurs between brothers 
and sisters, close in age, a problem since it is not 

Gang rape: A gang rape is when two or more 
people sexually assault another person or persons. 
This type of sexual assault is almost always planned. 
Though many think of it as a rare occurrence, research 
estimates gang rape to be from 30-50% of all actual 
assaults. Many all-male organizations use gang or 
group rape to initiate new members and to subjugate 
women. Gang rape is often thought to be the exclusive 
behaviour of motorcycle or ghetto gangs, but it also 
occurs in fraternities and stag parties among higher 
economic levels. 

Prison rape: This refers to sexual assault between 
members of the same sex within the confines of a jail. 
It is a common feature of prison life. Without many of 
the traditional displays of power found on the "outside," 
some inmates use sexual assault as a means of 
dominance and control over other inmates. Rape is 
also used as a punishment for those who break the 
unwritten laws of the prison community. 

War: Sexual assault has always been a part of war. 
Gruesome acts of violence have been imposed on 
women as warfare strategy, to assert power over an 
enemy people and to underline the ability of the 
conquering soldiers to humiliate the conquered nation. 
Women taken prisoners during wars and civil disputes 
are frequently subjected to sexual torture by their 

Page 5 

Statutory rape: We do not include in our book a 
discussion of the legal category "statutory rape" — 
sexual activity with a minor. The offence does not 
describe coercive sexual behaviour but, rather, focuses 
on the age of consent. In this sense, statutory rape 
dilutes the real meaning of sexual assault. 

part I 
dealing with 

sexual assault 

Although each experience of sexual assault is 
unique, women and children share a common vulner- 
ability to crimes of violence. In their work with 
children, CAP (Child Assault Prevention) outlines 
three factors which make women and children par- 
ticularly susceptible to sexual aggression. 

Lack of information: Inaccurate and incomplete 
information about sexual assault does not prepare us 
to deal with rape when we are actually confronted 
with it. For example, instead of learning to prevent 
sexual assault by someone we know (the most common 
form), we learn to be wary of rape by a stranger (the 
least common type of sexual assault). Media images 
and advice from so-called "experts" teach us (falsely) 
that we are incapable of effective resistance and that 
submission is the best response. Access to accurate 
information about when assaults occur, who the 
major perpetrators are, and what self-defence 
strategies women can use will reduce our vulnerability 
to such attacks. 

Dependence: The social and economic dependence 
many women experience in relationships with men 
puts us in a tricky position. Statistics show that sexual 
aggression often comes from the same population of 
men we rely on for support and protection. Economic 
independence and self-reliance do not prevent sexual 
assault, but they do help women to deal more effectively 
with it. 

Isolation: Both lack of information and the socialized 
dependence of women isolate us from our best source 
of support: other women. We often contribute to this 
isolation ourselves, perhaps because of a desire to 
repress a painful experience or a belief that other 
women are ineffective allies. Though we may approach 
other women as good listeners who commiserate with 
us over problems, we don't learn to act together to 
successfully confront aggression. Forexample, when 
sexual harassment occurs in the work place, the 
victim's isolation increases her vulnerability. If she 
could find support from co-workers and if they confront 
the harasser as a group, not only would the isolation 
of the victim diminish, but the problem itself might be 
more quickly resolved. 


The best way to deal with the possibility of sexual 
assault in our lives is to prevent it from happening in 
the first place. As we explore preventive strategies, we 
must remember that women are not responsible for 
the aggressive behaviour of men. Regardless of the 
reasons or the relationship, a woman always has the 
right to accept or refuse a sexual approach at any 
point in the encounter. When a woman does refuse, 
the man has choices about how to handle her refusal. 
He can accept her decision and change his own 
behaviour or he can ignore her decision and attempt 
to coerce her. He is guilty of assault if he uses direct or 
indirect threats, manipulates her psychologically or 
physically coerces her. 

Feeling Yes, Feeling No 

Both women and children can benefit from programs 
recently developed to deal with child sexual abuse. A 
simple, but effective technique in these new programs 
involves the notion of "Feeling yes, feeling no". Once 
we can distinguish between these two feelings, we 
can learn to respect and act on them. Acknowledging 
both "yes" feelings and "no" feelings prepares us to 
recognize sexually coercive situations without being 
suspicious of every sexual encounter. 

Page 6 

Feeling yes: Learning to recognize and act on "yes" 
feelings is a positive experience. Feeling attracted to 
someone, caring about a person, getting tingling 
sensations when he or she is near are all part of feeling 
"yes". These feelings do not always have a sexual 

Often, fears of rejection or of appearing too eager 
can hold us back from expressing these feelings. 
Women are especiaMy conscious of not wanting to 
appear pushy or promiscuous. But expressing our 
feelings of warmth and attraction helps build the 
confidence we need to become equal partners in our 

Feeling no: These feelings are important in rec- 
ognizing possible sexual assault situations: a nagging 
feeling that something is not right; being uncomfortable 
and wanting to leave; feeling ill at ease with comments 
and suggestions from the other person; disliking the 
physical contact he makes. These feelings are different 
from the nervousness you might experience in a new 
relationship. Feelings of nervousness usually dis- 
appear; "no" feelings persist. 

There are two main barriers to recognizing and 
acting on "no" feelings. The first is fear or concern 
about what others think of us. This fear can often 
cause us to deny our feelings: "I'll look stupid if I just 
get up and leave. I'm probably just over-reacting 

The second barrier to acknowledging "no" feelings 
is most apparent with someone we care for. It is hard 
to admit that someone we know and trust would try to 
sexually coerce us. We may have to acknowledge that 
a trust has been broken and that the relationship will 

be affected in the future. In these situations, women 
and children often blame themselves for causing the 
other person's behaviour. 

Once we can recognize and respect "no" feelings, 
we can learn to act on them. Precautions and preventive 
behaviour are more useful and less crippling when 
they are integrated into how we live and who we are as 
people. Women do not have to live like hermits and 
should not have to change their lifestyles. We can be 
cautious within our relationships with men. 

Preventive Behaviours 

There is no single, correct way to handle an assault 
situation. The actions you take will depend on how 
well you know the man, how frightened you are, and 
how dangerous you consider the situation to be. 
Advice which comes in the form of NEVER... DON'T... 
DO... leaves many women feeling at fault for the 
assault. The precautions you take should be for your 
own peace of mind, not because they are guarantees 
against assault. 

However, there are some reactions to assault sit- 
uations that do not work in a woman's favour. Recent 
research shows that crying and pleading usually 
make rapists more determined. Rape is an act of 
power and hostility and rapists usually pick people 
who look like easy victims. Effective fighting back — 
both verbal and physical — greatly increases your 
chance of getting away. 

As you read, try to picture certain scenarios or 
remember experiences you have had. Consider how 
acting one way or another might lead you to feel more 
comfortable and more in control. 

Assaults by someone you know 

The most common assaults are those which occur 
between people who know each other. The Canadian 
Advisory Council on the Status of Women estimates 
that 1 out of every 6 women is sexually assaulted at 
some point in her life and that most of the time, the 
aggressor is known to the woman. 

Getting acquainted: If you are seeing someone you 
barely know, arrange to meet him in a restaurant, a bar 
or other public place. This will reduce your fears and 
avoid a potentially uncomfortable situation. Inviting a 
trusted friend and her/his date may take some of the 
pressure off the new relationship, as well as provide 
you with support if you need it. 

Make a practice of carrying "mad" money. This is 
$10 or $20, not part of your regular spending money, 
tucked away for emergencies. "Mad" money gives 
you the option of leaving whenever a situation becomes 

When these suggestions become part of your routine 
behaviour, you can relax, assured that you are prepared 
to handle both a good and 'not so good' evening. 

If "no" feelings emerge, acknowledge them. You 
may be pressured to go somewhere less public and 
more difficult for you to leave (his apartment, a drive 
to an unknown section of town). Sexual innuendoes 
during the evening may not match your own feelings. 
Tell your date you are uncomfortable with his 
comments and suggestions. 

Page 7 

If you find that the person does not listen to you and 
is intent on sexual activity, talking will not get you very 
far. You might be embarrassed and not know how to 
leave gracefully; excuse yourself, go to the bathroom 
and leave from there. You do not owe politeness to 
someone who has chosen to ignore your feelings. 

The best strategy, always, is to leave before a 
situation becomes dangerous. Sometimes your judg- 
ment might be wrong. You might be accused of 
paranoid behaviour or of over-reacting. However, as a 
potential victim, it is better to terminate an un- 
comfortable meeting rather than wait and have your 
fears confirmed. Recognizing, acknowledging and 
acting on "no" feelings will build confidence and 
enable you to recognize good feelings when they 
come along. 

On-going sexual relationships: Statistics on the 
incidence of wife battering in North America show 
that 1 in 10 women is beaten by the man with whom 
she lives. This violence is often accompanied by 
sexual coercion, but statistics on sexual assault within 
ongoing relationships are difficult to obtain. 

Patterns are set early in a relationship. Where both 
partners are actively involved in making decisions and 
expressing needs and desires, conflicts around sexu- 
ality can be handled in ways other than by forcing one 
partner to comply with the wishes of the other. 

If your partner has an aggressive character and 
displays violent behaviour toward inanimate objects 
(bangs walls and tables), this violence may eventually 
be directed toward you and your children. Men who 
express frustration and stress violently usually have a 
long history of doing so. They are not likely to change 
without acknowledging the problem and then making 
a concerted effort to resolve it. 

As with any dangerous situation, your first concern 
should be to remove yourself from the scene until 
tempers have cooled. When you return, talk with your 
partner about the ways this violence affects you. 
Involving a third person — a friend, a social worker, a 
couple counsellor — is often effective. If your partner 
resists or does not take your reaction seriously, you 
may have to consider leaving the relationship to avoid 

Sexual coercion and violence in a marriage is rarely 
a one time event. After the first outburst, the man may 
regret his behaviour and make sincere promises never 
to do it again. Regardless of his good intentions, 
research shows that once battering or sexual coercion 
occurs in a relationship, it is likely to recur with 
increasing frequency and intensity. 

Although submission to sexual coercion may seem 
like a practical means of dealing with an immediate 
problem, compliance does not decrease the degree of 
violence or the possibility that it will recur. The longer 
a woman puts up with beatings, the more difficult it is 
to get out of the situation. A "victim mentality" begins 
to develop which makes it hard for a woman to act in 
her own interest. Women who have submitted to 
violence and sexual coercion over long periods speak 
of low self-esteem and of developing a belief that they 
deserve such punishment. They feel very isolated and 
unworthy of potential sources of support. 

The best long term strategy for dealing with sexual 
assault in an on-going relationship is to immediately 
acknowledge that it has occurred. Speak to someone 

who will take your concerns seriously and will help 
you explore your options. This can be difficult because 
you may encounter reactions which blame you for 
causing the violence or which seek to maintain the 
marriage at any cost. 

Since many relationships that include sexual 
coercion do not change, you may need support to 
leave. You may have to look beyond your immediate 
community for resources to support this decision — 
centres for battered women, crisis lines, a place to 
stay until a new life can be established. 

Non-sexual relationships: Often friendships between 
men and women will go through a period in which one 
of the friends fantasizes about adding a sexual di- 
mension to the friendship. Changing the friendship 
into a sexual relationship must be agreeable to both 

Prevention of sexual coercion in a friendship depends 
on open, frank communication. A discussion of how 
sexual involvement could affect the relationship and 
of why one person is eager and the other is not, may 
help carry the friendship through such a conflict. 

If your reluctance is not taken seriously and you feel 
that you are not being heard, your best option is to 
leave. You may risk losing the friendship but you will 
prevent the situation from getting out of hand. 

Difficulties can also arise because the two of you 
have friends in common. Relations with them may 
also be affected if they want to know why you are 
avoiding someone who was a mutual friend. Though 
you may be unsure of their support and understanding, 
remaining silent about someone's coercive behaviour 
only serves to protect him. Remember that the man 
made his own choice and that you have the right to 
refuse his approaches. 

Economic and professional relationships: If an 
employer, teacher or doctor makes sexual comments 
or suggests inappropriate encounters, make your 
discomfort known from the very beginning. Often this 
is enough to put an end to sexual harassment. Should 
the harasser continue, consider other options. 

Many work places and academic institutions have 
policies and procedures to handle sexual harassment. 
Find out what these are before the situation becomes 
too stressful and you risk losing your job, failing a 
course or receiving bad health care. Showing the 
harasser that you are aware of your rights and intend 
to follow through with some action is a good strategy 
if his harassing escalates. 


Discuss the situation with fellow classmates or 
workers. Harassers rarely have a single victim so you 
may find that others share your experience and are 
able to offer you support. Together you can pressure 
the harasser to stop and you will feel less isolated in 
dealing with the problem. 

Sexual harassment is very stressful. Many women 
deal with it by leaving the situation at the first 
opportunity. This might offer a short term solution for 
one individual, but it does not prevent the harasser 
from continuing such behaviour toward other women. 

Children and known adults: Children should know 
that sexual coercion can occur with adults they know. 
Teaching children to distinguish between "yes" and 
"no" feelings will help them recognize inappropriate 
adult behaviour and give them some sense of their 
right to refuse. A child should be told who to go to 
should such coercion occur. 

If you don't feel comfortable discussing the "no" 
feelings with your child, find someone the child trusts 
who can speak to her/him in an open, constructive 
way. Some communities have programs to teach 
children preventive behaviours toward sexual assault 
and abuse. Child Assault Prevention (CAP) is one 
such program. In a gentle, cooperative atmosphere, 
children learn to recognize and act on "no" feelings. 
CAP groups are usually willing to offer their program 
in schools or community centres. 

Assaults by a stranger 

Situations where strangers are present cannot be 
avoided and since women do not initiate assault, rape 
prevention is not the responsibility of the potential 
victim. You can, however, develop an awareness of 
where these attacks occur most frequently, what kind 
of people the assailants are and how you might make 
yourself less vulnerable to potential attacks. You can 
learn actions to throw the assailant off guard to allow 
time for escape, as well as effective means of fighting 
back if escape is not immediately possible. 

At home: The first step is to take a few precautions 
to "attack proof" your home. These suggestions are 
not only helpful in preventing assault, but also guard 
against theft and break-ins. Locks and curtains on the 
windows and a chain on the door make your home 
less accessible to intruders. If you are living alone, list 
your name in the phone book and on the mailbox in a 
neutral fashion (e.g. Parker, L.) so strangers won't 
know whether the occupant is male or female. 

Many people now have telephone answering ma- 
chines. A message that does not specify if you are out 
is a good idea and discourages unwanted intruders. A 
dog barking in the background of the message will 
also deter someone from entering while you are out. 

When you are home alone and are not sure about a 
person at the door (those "no" feelings are there), 
leave the door chained and ask to see the person's 
card. Tell him you will call the company to check if his 
presence is legitimate. This involves overcoming a 
desire to be polite and compliant with strangers, but 
the Ontario rape crisis centre caseload reveals that 
over 30% of the incidents reported to them involve 
someone disguised as a friend of a friend, an appliance 
repairman, a delivery person, etc. If his presence is 
not legitimate, the intruder will most likely leave very 

If you are alone and someone does enter (such as 
the serviceman you called earlier), leave the door 
unlocked and open. Have an idea where you might go 
for help should the situation become threatening. 

Should you find yourself with a stranger who has 
come to your apartment with the intention of assault, 
try not to spend time pondering what you did or did 
not do to get into this situation. A firm, deep-voiced 
"Get out now!" may give the attacker the message that 
you are not an easy victim. You can either back up 
your words with a physical act intended to allow you 
to escape or plan an escape at the first opportunity. 
Choose an exit which leads you to others who can 
help. To call for help, yell "Fire!" or something that 
suggests to others that helping you might also benefit 

If you live alone and are frightened a lot, do yourself 
a favour and buy a dog. You might find one with a 
loud, frightening bark but still nice to cuddle. 

On the street: Being alert and attentive to your 
environment is an important skill for women to develop, 
especially for walks alone. Though every person has 
the right to stroll or walk leisurely down a street, a 
woman alone rarely enjoys this pleasure. 

Walk tall. Look around you. Feel that you have a 
right to be there and try to show that feeling. 

Pick a route which allows you to be near activity. 
Try to avoid streets where there are no lights and 
notice which houses have lights on and which stores 
and restaurants are open. 

If you think you are being followed, cross the street 
and walk in the opposite direction. Should your 
suspicion be confirmed, plan your escape route. If 
you feel assertive, turn around and, in a deep, loud 
voice, ask the person what he wants. This may throw 
him off balance and may convince him that he is 
choosing the wrong person to victimize. Whether you 
confront him or not, assess the situation and act 

You could deter the assailant by approaching another 
person on the street or by going to a nearby house for 
help. What might be a bit embarrassing at first could 
save you from a dangerous situation. 

Some situations which are annoying for women 
rarely become dangerous or lead to an actual assault: 
exhibitionism, jeering and whistling, quick 'feels' in 
the buses and subways. Men who do this depend on 
women quietly ignoring their behaviour. Confronting 
them in crowded places is quite effective: say in a loud 
voice, "Keep your hands to yourself," "Stop touching 
me" or "Don't do that to me." 

At a bar or party: All women who have gone to bars 
and parties by themselves know that the possibility of 
having to handle unwanted "come-ons" is quite likely. 
Even when you go alone in orderto meet men, you still 
have a right to choose with whom you want to be. 

If a man does not leave you alone after you have 
asked him to, report him to the bartender or host/ess. 
If you are being harassed in a bar, go to the women's 
room. Tell another woman what is happening and ask 
to sit at her table for a while. You may end up making a 
new friend. 

If you are worried that he might follow you home, 
arrange to leave the party or bar with someone else. 
When you must leave alone, call a taxi and ask the 
driver to wait until you are safely inside your home. 

Page 9 

Hitchhiking: There is no doubt that for many men, 
women who hitchhike are fair game for sexual ap- 
proaches. Women hitchhike for transportation, but 
sexist beliefs make it an uncomfortable way to travel. 
This is probably why its popularity is declining. 

Choose your rides. There is no law that you must 
accept any ride that stops. If, for whatever reason, you 
don't feel comfortable accepting a particular ride, say 
"No thank you" and stand back from the car. 

Advice about hitching usually has less to do with 
avoiding rape than with avoiding dangerous drivers. 
For instance, "Don't accept a ride from someone who 
is drunk and slams on his brakes to pick you up" is 
helpful to arrive at your destination without an accident 
as well as without a rape. 

Be flexible. Hitchhiking can be one way to meet 
people and often drivers who are alone welcome the 
company. Finding another person to hitch with can 
also help you feel more secure and make the time on 
the road less lonely. 


A good strategy for sexual assault prevention is to 
take a women's self-defence course (Wendo, Action, 
Women's Self-Defence, etc.). Self-defence courses 
given by women for women are specifically designed 
to deal with the helplessness many women feel when 
confronted with an assault. They address the kinds of 
assaults commonly directed at women — from irritating 
harassment on the street to full fledged sexual attacks 
by one or more assailants. Though one in six women 
in North America is sexually assaulted at some point 
in her life, we are poorly trained, both physically and 
mentally, to effectively confront sexual aggression. 
Some so-called "experts" even counsel women to 
submit to sexual attacks. But research clearly shows 
the opposite: women who verbally and physically 
resist their attackers are much more likely to avoid 
rape and much less likely to experience depression 
after the attack. 

Usually women's self-defence training takes place 
in a small group setting. Women learn effective verbal 

and physical techniques of assertiveness and self- 
defence. Discussion, role-playing and practice of 
defence techniques are used to make the learning 
effective and fun. 

The techniques are presented in a spirit of equality 
and none are beyond a woman's grasp. They can be 
learned quickly, do not require great feats of strength 
and are designed to be easily integrated into a 
woman's personal lifestyle. Most instructors are good 
animators. They encourage cooperation among the 
participants and focus on the joy of discovering one's 
potential for autonomous living. 

Most self-defence courses can be taken during one 
weekend; one day per weekend for two weeks; or 
once a week for 5-6 weeks, 2-3 hours per session. 
Most women's self-defence groups offer a one or two 
hour "demo" — a session which introduces the 
philosophy, the teaching methods and a few verbal 
and physical techniques to illustrate how the course 
works. This exposure to the basics can give you a 
chance to decide if the course would be useful to you. 

Information about where and when women's self- 
defence courses are given and how much they cost 
can usually be obtained from a woman's centre, a rape 
crisis centre or the YWCA/YWHA in your area. Cost 
varies but is usually between $40-$60 for the intro- 
ductory course. Instructors often reduce the fee for 
those without means to pay the full amount. 

If thereare no courses available in yourcommunity, 
self-defence teachers are usually willing to travel if 
you can organize 10-1 2 students for the course. Some 
teachers are associated with CAP (Child Assault 
Prevention) and may be willing to offer a program for 
children as well. 

A note on the martial arts 

The traditional martial arts — judo, karate, tae kwan 
do, aikido, etc. — are indigenous to the Far East where 
they were mainly cultivated by the military aristocracy. 
They stress respect for the teacher and commitment 
to developing self-control, perseverance, integrity 
and courtesy. In North America, they have become a 
sport with competitions and clubs in many com- 

Since the mid-sixties, many women have shown 
interest in these courses — both as a means to keep fit 
and as a means to develop their self-defence capa- 
bilities. While women should not be discouraged from 
taking the traditional martial arts, it is important to 
note their inherent weaknesses in preparing women 
to deal with sexual aggression. 

Traditionally a male preserve, the martial arts stress 
competition and combat. They do not address women's 
particular vulnerability to sexual assault, nor our 
socialized helplessness in the face of such violence. 
To become proficient in one of the martial arts 
requires many years of training. The highest grade of 
achievement is the black belt, obtained only after 
many years of study and a commitment to making the 
martial arts a way of life. 

By contrast, self-defence developed specifically for 
women addresses our particular vulnerability to sexual 
violence with techniques that are easily integrated 
into daily life. Women's self-defence does not require 
years of training to be useful or successful. Most 
introductory courses can be mastered in 1 2-1 5 hours. 

Page 10 

the assault., 

Although chances of escape are greater in the 
period preceding an assault, it is important to keep 
looking for any way out, even while the assault is 

In a recent study of women's reactions to sexual 
attacks, women who verbally and physically resisted 
the rapist were usually able to avoid rape. Resistance 
proved effective even when assailants used or 
threatened to use a weapon. Crying, pleading and 
submission did not help women who used these 
strategies. They became victims of rape and often 
sustained more physical injuries than those who 
fought back. 

This important study shows that if a woman uses a 
series of strategies — from yelling and screaming to 
conning and negotiating to using physical force — 
her chances of avoiding the assault increase signif- 

A person's immediate reaction in a threatening 
situation is not always predictable. Some people 
freeze with fear and become immobile. Others feel a 
burst of adrenalin and find strength they never knew 
they had. Still others act very calmly and clearly at the 
time but crumble in a flood of emotional fear and tears 
several days later. People don't always react the way 
they imagine they would when actually confronted 
with an assault. If you have faced a threatening 
situation and know your response, you can take this 
into account. Otherwise, be assured: you will do what 
you can at the time. 

An assault may last a few minutes or several hours. 
During this time, you can try several actions either to 
escape or make the situation easier to endure. The 
following are not behaviour codes, but ideas which 
can be useful during a sexual assault: 

— Stay aware. Try to focus on your assailant's 
weak points. There may be different times during the 
assault when the assailant is less in control, not 
keeping an eye on you, etc. 

— Try different tactics — both physical and verbal. 
Negotiate, con, lie, kick, yell. Keep the assailant aware 
that you are not going to make it easy for him to 
assault you. 

— When the aggressor is someone you know, state 
how you feel. This reaffirms your own conviction of 
not wanting to be coerced. It also makes it more 
difficult for the man to imagine that women enjoy 
such abuse. Expressing your feelings is especially 
important when you have an on-going relationship 
with the man. You do not want your submission to be 
interpreted as a positive response. 

— When the assailant is a stranger, try to memorize 
as much around you as you can. Pay particular 
attention to what the aggressor looks like, since you 
will be asked to describe him should you decide to 
report to the police. 

Women who use physical resistance during an 
attack are less likely to be depressed afterward. 
Remembering this during the assault can give you the 
conviction and confidence to resist the rapist. 

Page 1 1 

...after an assault 

After a sexual assault, there are many decisions to 
consider at a time when you may feel least capable of 
decision-making. Though making decisions may seem 
like an intrusion, it can help you regain some control 
in your life. Consider these questions first: 

— Who should you call for emotional support? 

— Should you report the assault to police? 

— Where should you go for medical care? 

— Should you prosecute and go to court? 

The questions are listed in a sequence to facilitate 
decision-making. For example, calling someone for 
emotional support makes meeting the police easier to 
handle. Where you go for medical care may depend 
on whether or not you intend to report the rape to the 

Getting emotional support 

The single most important action to take following 
an assault is to find someone who can provide you 
with emotional support and guidance. Once you feel 
that you are being cared for, supported and listened 
to, other decisions are easier to make. 

Choosing a support person: The attitudes you 
confront right after the assault can help you feel better 
— or worse — about yourself. The person you call 
should be someone who: 

— is on your side; 

— is easy to confide in; 

— can be trusted to keep in confidence any details 
you do not wish to share with others; 

— will not be judgmental; 

— can respect your decisions; 

— is dependable and available when needed; 

— can deal with people like policemen, doctors, 
social workers and lawyers. 

At a time like this, the people closest to you are 
sometimes, but not always, the best sources of support. 
Husbands, boyfriends, parents may be so upset that 
they may also need help dealing with your assault. 

Giving support: If you are supporting someone 
who has been assaulted, it is important to: 

— reassure her that it is not her fault; 

— listen, understand and encourage hertoexpress 
her feelings, whatever they may be; 

— help her make decisions which are in her best 

— be careful not to pressure her. 

Although there are some time constraints, consider 
one thing at a time: proceed slowly but consistently. 

If you are unsure of the procedures or of the 
services available in your area, call a resource person. 
The decision to seek help from someone who knows 
the ropes (a social worker, a counsellor from the rape 

crisis centre, a therapist) should be discussed with the 
victim. Choose a person who is trustworthy and with 
whom you both feel comfortable. Assure the victim 
that you will still be there for her. 

Victims of sexual assault, especially children and 
mentally handicapped people, need to hear a clear 
message of support: 

— "I believe you." 

— "I'm glad you told me." 

— "It is not your fault." 

— "I will help you." 

Page 12 

Deciding to report to the police 

The final decision about whether to report the rape 
to the police belongs to the victim of the assault. She 
must deal with the procedures, attitudes and decisions 
of the police. 

This is not an easy decision to make, especially 
since it must be made very shortly after the assault. 
Some factors to consider include: 

— Will you have adequate support when you meet 
the police? 

— Do you want the experience to remain pri vate? 
If so, can the police assure privacy? 

— Has the assailant threatened retaliation if you 
report the assault? 

— Do you feel an obligation to take some action 
against the aggressor? 

— Do you intend toapplyforvictim'scompensation? 
Is it necessary to report to the police to qualify 
for compensation?* 

When thinking about these questions, remember 
that in most places there are several methods for 
reporting a rape to the police. In the United States, 
each state has different procedures and requirements. 
In Canada, sexual assault laws are under federal 
jurisdiction, but procedures can vary slightly from 
province to province. 

Some of the alternative ways to report assaults are: 

1. For the record: You might want to declare the 
assault, but not to pursue the case to trial. The usual 
reasons for this type of reporting are: a) to keep 
evidence on file in case the assailant assaults another 
woman at a later date; b) to provide information to 
police in case the assailant has assaulted other 
women; and c) to contribute to the compiling of 
assault statistics. Sometimes the police contact the 
assailant for a reprimand, especially when he is 
known to you. They usually discuss this with you 

The legal system has the option to bring charges 
against an assailant and issue you a subpoena as a 
witness to the case. Despite your reservations about 
prosecution, they may believe that the case is a strong 
one and that the assailant should be brought to court. 
Although this occurs rarely, when it does happen, the 
case usually receives a lot of publicity in the media. 

2. Going to court: If you decide to bring the 
assailant to court, reporting to the police is the first 
step in a series of actions which will culminate in a 
trial. You or a friend should call the police as soon 
after the event as possible. Do not bathe or change 

In Canada (except in Prince Edward Island), assault victims can 
apply for compensation. To be eligible, the assault must be 
reported to the police as soon after the crime as possible. A 
medical examination must substantiate the claim of physical and 
psychological damage. Accident compensation pays medical 
costs not covered by medicare (therapy, prescriptions, etc.) and 
a percentage of salary lost while you are unable to work. You do 
not have to prosecute in order to make a claim and receive 
compensation. In most provinces, you have one year from the 
date of the assault to file your claim. If the Board decides that a 
hearing is necessary, it would be wise to seek legal advice. You 
can call the Crime Victim's Compensation, a division of Workman's 
Compensation, for more details. 

clothes until the necessary evidence has been col- 
lected. Usually, two constables arrive where you are 
staying and ask you to describe what happened. They 
also accompany you and your friend to the hospital 
for a medical examination and health care. 

3. Third party reporting: A woman having difficulty 
speaking about the event but who would like it to be 
reported can have a friend call the police or the local 
rape crisis centre. Both of these places keep statistical 
records on assaults. Although rape crisis centres 
always accept third party reports, not all police 
departments do. This option, when available, allows 
the woman to make a report and to keep the assault 
private at the same time. 

Given these options, we recommend that you con- 
sider some form of reporting. One factor which can 
help change attitudes about rape is affirmative action 
by more women saying "I have been sexually 
assaulted". Whether this statement is made for the 
record, with the intent of going to court, or merely to 
help in the task of compiling statistics, the magnitude 
of the problem is harder to ignore when it is consistently 
identified. Since 1969, reported rapes have increased 
by 125%. 

Going for medical care 

We recommend a medical examination, whether or 
not you have obvious injuries from struggle or battering, 
for the following reasons: 

1) An initial visit soon after the assault will detect 
any hidden injuries and deal with the prevention of 
pregnancy and of sexually transmitted diseases. 
2) If you decide to press charges, additional tests 
are done to gather medical evidence. 

3) Follow-up visits will permit the diagnosis of 
pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted diseases, and 
their resolution. 

It is not always easy to choose where to go for 
medical care. Each option (private doctor, community 
clinic or hospital emergency ward) has its advantages 
and disadvantages. The local rape crisis centre prob- 
ably has information on the facilities available which 
will suit your needs. In making your choice, consider 
the following: 

Cost/compensation: In Canada most medical ser- 
vices are covered by government health plans. In the 
USA, cost may be a deciding factor. What are the 
fees? Are the forms for victim's compensation avail- 
able? Will the doctor take the time to complete them? 

Hours: Not all private and clinic doctors can be 
reached after hours. Even though emergency depart- 
ments are open 24 hours a day, you may have to wait 
either for the arrival of a doctor who specializes in 
assault cases or for the doctor on duty in emergency. 

Atmosphere: Your family doctor may offer you the 
comfort of familiarity as well as a degree of privacy. 
Many community clinics have policies to give assault 
victims priority care and to respect your needs as 
much as possible. Emergency wards are often im- 
personal and depressing, and it may be more difficult 
to have your needs met (for example, to have a friend 
with you in the examining room). 

Page 13 

Treatment and care: Private doctors are not always 
experienced with treating rape victims. Nor are they 
usually equipped to test for sexually transmitted 
diseases. Community clinics may be better equipped; 
they also have a more varied personnel (social, 
psychological, etc.) who may be useful to you. The 
quality of care varies a lot from one emergency 
department to another. It is certainly the place to go if 
you have been seriously injured. 




Medical testimony: If there is any possibility that 
you might press charges, it is important that the 
doctor fills out your chart properly and collects any 
relevant medical evidence. Not all doctors are familiar 
with these procedures. Many are unwilling to testify in 
court. Hospital personnel are the most likely to be 
experienced in these matters. In the US, some hospitals 
refuse to examine a victim unless the police have been 

In some areas of Canada and the United States, 
women who wish to press charges must first go to a 
medico-legal centre for examinations and tests needed 
for medical evidence in court. Often medico-legal 
centres do not provide medical care, and you will 
need to see a doctor after the evidence has been 

If you don't have serious injuries or don't want to 
press charges, a medical examination and treatment 
can be done several hours or even the day after the 
assault. It is only for preserving and collecting evidence 
that women are told not to eat, bathe or change their 
clothes. If legal procedures are not your priority, you 

may delay the examination while you pull yourself 
together, try to relax, be comforted, etc. If you are 
unsure about pressing charges and want to leave the 
possibility open, keep your body and clothes in the 
same condition as they were at the end of the assault 
(see page 16). 

At the doctor's office, clinic or hospital, you will be 
asked many questions. The doctor needs enough 
information about what happened during the assault 
to do a proper physical examination — were you 
beaten and where, did penetration take place and with 
what, etc. The doctor will also ask about your medical 
background to determine which medications s/he can 

Stress from an assault can make slipping back into 
normal living routines difficult. If you think a few days 
off work or school would be helpful foryourwellbeing, 
ask for a letter justifying your absence. The doctor 
does not need to specify that you were raped; "absence 
for medical reasons" will suffice, except for insurance 
companies which won't pay without a diagnosis. 

Treatment of injuries: The doctor will want to 
know where you hurt. S/he will probably give you a 
thorough examination since you may be in a state of 
shock and not feel anything yet. The doctor looks for 
any bruises or lacerations incurred during the assault 
— shoulder, back and elbow scrapes; face and head 
injuries; bites; etc. A shot of tetanus toxoid is required 
for open wounds if you have not had a tetanus shot 
within the past five years. Even if you have not been 
beaten, you will probably be stiff from the stress and 
tension of the assault. You may want to ask for some 
aspirinorpain killers for any soreness you mightfeel. 

The doctor will perform a gynecological examination 
to look for any internal damage to the vagina and 
cervix. Though difficult to endure so soon after an 
assault, the examination is necessary. If you have not 
seen the doctor before, ask her or him to be gentle and 
to take your recent experience into account. The 
exam includes both a speculum and bi-manual exami- 
nation (see diagrams). 

You may want to ask for something to help you 
sleep for the next few nights. The doctor may ask 
about suicidal feelings and limit the number of pills 
prescribed at one time. 

Pregnancy prevention: The Canadian Advisory 
Council on the Status of Women estimates that 
pregnancy occurs in about 12% of sexual assaults. If 
you were not using contraception at the time and are 
worried about pregnancy, there are three possible 
actions to take: 

1. Take a drug to prevent pregnancy. The most 
common "morning after" pill is Ovral — one of the 
strongest birth control pills on the market. Two tablets 
are taken immediately, followed by 2 more tablets 12 
hours later. Ovral may prevent ovulation or, if ovulation 
has occurred, prevent the fertilized egg from implanting 
in the uterus. You might experience nausea and 
vomiting; a drug such as Gravol can be taken at the 
same time to prevent nausea. Your period after the 
"morning after" pill can be early, on time or late. If you 
do become pregnant when using Ovral, there is a 
slight risk of malformation of the fetus. 

D.E.S., diethylstibestrol, has also been used to 
prevent pregnancy. Because of its dangerous side 

Page 14 

effects, it should not be used. 

A woman who has been trying to get pregnant 
should probably not take the "morning after" pill. A 
blood test, called Beta-HCG, can show if you were 
already pregnant at the time of the assault. 

2. Have a menstrual extraction when your period is 
due. During a menstrual extraction, a small plastic 
tube is inserted into the uterus to withdraw the uterine 
lining. It will remove an embryo that is present. This 
option may be a difficult experience for some women, 
since it follows so soon after the assault. 

In the U.S., menstrual extractions can sometimes 
be obtained at women's self-help clinics without proof 
of pregnancy. However, in Canada, menstrual ex- 
tractions are only performed as an early abortion, so 
proof of pregnancy is required. 

3. Wait to see whether your menstrual period is 
late. If it is, a pregnancy test should be taken 4-6 
weeks (depending on the test) after the first day of 
your last period. This will ensure reliable results. 

Testing for sexually transmitted diseases 
(STD): These infections are spread from one person 
to another by some form of sexual contact. The 
spread of AIDS has created greater concern about 
STDs amongst victims of sexual assault, both for 
themselves and for their regular partner. 

Having sexual contact with an infected person 
does not mean you will automatically be infected. 

Venereal warts, herpes and crabs are 

diagnosed by looking at the skin and genitals. If 
you have a painful sore, go immediately for care. 
Early treatment of the first episode of herpes 
decreases the time of discomfort. 

Gonorrhea and chlamydia often cause no 
symptoms. If penetration occurred, swabs are 
taken from the appropriate orifice. Depending on 
the lab, results are available within a week. The 
diagnosis of vaginal infections is based on your 
symptoms and the examination of any discharge 
under the microscope. 

Syphilis, hepatitis B and HIV infection are 

diagnosed with blood tests which detect 
antibodies. Since it takes time for the body to 
make antibodies, these tests are repeated at 
certain intervals. 

For further information, see the STD Hand- 
book, also published by the Montreal Health 

The risk of infection depends on the kind of sexual 
contact, its duration, whether injuries occur and if 
sores or infection are already present. 

Testing for STDs immediately after an assault only 
tells you if you were already infected. Concerns that 
these results could be used against you in court 
have led some centres to stop doing them. Others 
feel these tests are useful for victims' compensation 
claims. To reduce the pressure of deciding whether 
to be tested for HIV (the virus linked with AIDS) 
immediately after an assault, some centres refer 
victims to anonymous testing centres within 48 
hours. Others have arranged to take the blood 
sample immediately but to allow the person to 
decide later on to have it tested or not. 

Some states are considering laws to force people 
accused of sexual assault to submit to STD testing. 
Proponents of these laws feel women would get 
better care if they knew whether or not the 
aggressor had certain infections. Those opposed 
feel they violate the accused's civil rights. Tests are 
not perfect and the results may take too long to 
make an important difference in care for the victim. 

Another controversy is whether a victim should 
take medications to try to prevent getting an 
infection. For some people, preventive treatment is 
reassuring; for others, it feels like something else 
forced on them. You should discuss your situation 
with the nurse or doctor caring for you. For example, 
if you were forced to have sex with a person with 
whom you have sex frequently without condoms, 
you should probably wait for test results. If you were 
raped by several people, you might consider 
preventive treatment. If you live in a big city with 
high STD rates, you might be more open to taking 
treatment than if you live in a rural area. Antibiotics 
are used to prevent gonorrhea and chlamydia. 

Page 15 

Vaccination against Hepatitis B is effective if begun 
soon after exposure. It is not known whether drugs 
such as AZT successfully prevent infection with HIV. 

Not every irritation is a venereal disease. It is 
normal to be swollen and irritated after being 
penetrated roughly. You may also have a sense of 
"dirtiness" and your concerns about STDs may 
make you wonder if what you are feeling is normal. 
Going for follow-up tests will reassure you that 
either you have not been infected or that you have 
been adequately treated. Follow-up visits for STDs 
are suggested at 2 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 
months and one year and at any other time if 
you have symptoms. You should consider using 
condoms for sex with penetration for at least 6 

You mightfind itdifficultto remember to have these 
tests done several weeks or months after the assault. 
While you are trying to forget the experience and get 
back into your regular routines, such tests and exami- 
nations can be sore reminders of the painful experience. 
Ask the person who has supported you through the 
initial decisions to remind you about follow-up 
appointments. The effort will ensure that there are no 
lingering medical problems to deal with in the future. 

Deciding to press charges 

The decision to prosecute will probably be made 
jointly by the police and the woman who has been 
assaulted. Forthe woman, it is a commitment to follow 
through a long, legal process which culminates in the 
trial. Several factors should be seriously considered 
before any decision is made: 

— What kind of support will you have during this 

— Are you prepared for the time span between the 
initial report and the actual trial? 

— If you have a fear of retaliation from the assailant, 
can you get the security and protection you 

— What is the police's attitude about pressing 

— Are you aware of what the trial experience will 

— What is the possibility of conviction in this case? 

Support: Pressing charges involves a need for 
continual support as you proceed through the legal 
maze on your way to the courtroom. Ideally, there 
should be at least one person with whom you feel 
comfortable and who is willing to make a 
commitment to be with you through the whole 
process. Rape crisis and sexual assault centre 
workers often accompany victims through legal 
proceedings, explaining procedures and giving legal 
support when needed. Both emotional support and 
practical information are necessary. 

Time span: Following through with the prosecution 
usually takes 1 year to 18 months from the initial 
report of the assault to the actual trial. Postponements 

of court dates or appeals may make this process even 
longer. In some provinces and states, the backlog of 
cases has prompted lawyers and judges to settle 
certain cases out of court through a process called 
"plea bargaining". Although this may result in charges 
and sentences which do not reflect the nature and 
severity of the crime, cases are resolved more quickly 
and you might be spared the trial experience if the 
assailant pleads guilty to a lesser charge. 

Though your involvement will not be continuous 
over this time period, your presence is required for 
key events: identification of the assailant, meetings 
with the prosecutor, the preliminary inquiry and the 

Because of the long time delay, it is a good idea to 
write down your version of the assault shortly after it 
occurs. You can read it before each event. 

Fear of retaliation: You may fear that the assailant 
will retaliate if you press charges. This is often true 
when you know the man. He may have threatened you 
during the assault or after you pressed charges 
against him. You will have to judge how your fear of 
the assailant will affect your everyday life, since these 
proceedings could last over a year. The police are 
unlikely to offer you protection for that whole period. 
With the support of friends and family, you can decide 
what measures to take for the peace of mind you need. 
In most cases, one condition of bail is that there is no 
contact with the victim. The assailant is warned that 
breaking this condition of bail could result in additional 
charges being laid. Most likely he will leave you alone. 

Police attitudes: In most places, it is the police 
who decide if a charge will be laid. This decision is 
made after consultation with a prosecuting lawyer. 
The police consider three factors: 

— How committed are you to follow through with 
the charges? 

— How will the case hold up in court? 
- How will you hold up in court? 

This decision is rarely based on whether or not the 
police believe your story. If they believe that, on the 
basis of the available evidence, the assailant is likely 
to be acquitted, they may see no reason for you to go 
through the trial. Recent talks with police indicate that 

Page 16 

the new legislation is producing higher conviction 
rates than in the past. For this reason they are 
increasing their efforts to encourage victims to 

Technically, the victim does not bring the assailant 
to trial; the Crown (in Canada) or the State (in the 
U.S.) actually presses charges. You are the main 
witness to the event and your testimony provides the 
most important evidence in the case. Although the 
assailant can be brought to trial despite the reluctance 
of the victim (you would receive a subpoena to appear 
in court), this is rarely done. Only in cases where none 
of the victims has offered to prosecute and where the 
suspect is considered dangerous will the police and 
lawyers consider this action. There is little chance of a 
conviction when the main witness is hostile to the 

The trial: Since most people have never been to 
criminal court, this experience may be new and a little 
frightening. The atmosphere, the language and the 
procedures are very formal and different from the 
police station and the medico-legal examination. 
Time permitting, it is a good idea to go to court and 
observe a sexual assault case before you make your 
decision about prosecution. This can help you make 
your decision and familiarize you with the proceedings 
when your own case comes up. 

For sexual assault victims, the trial can be particularly 
gruelling. Despite Canada's progressive new laws, 
you may feel that you , and not the suspect, are on trial. 
You will need solid support from people close to you 
during this time. 

Possibility of conviction: The conviction rate for 
sexual assault is lower than for any other indictable 
offense. Based on FBI and other U.S. statistics, a man 
brought to court on a rape charge has about a 12% 
chance of being convicted of the crime. By contrast, 
the conviction rates in the U.S. for murders and 
aggravated assaults are 79% and 64%, respectively. 

In Canada, under the old rape laws, the picture 
was no less discouraging. Only about 50% of the rape 
cases which made it to court resulted in conviction. 
The actual conviction rate for rapes and sexual 
assault was more around the 7% mark, because only 1 
in 10 rapes was reported to the police and about 37% 
of these were declared "unfounded". 

New legislation in Canada has helped this situation 
somewhat. In I985, 95% of cases reported to police 
resulted in charges being laid. But of the cases that 

made it to court, only 45% resulted in convictions. The 
rate of conviction depends on the degree of violence 
(the level of the assault charge, see page 20). For 
simple sexual assault resulting in no physical injury, 
the conviction rate is 40%. For sexual assault with a 
weapon, the rate is 60% and for aggravated sexual 
assault, the conviction rate is 70%. 

Once you decide to go to court, you cannot count 
on a conviction. The prosecutor and the police will 
have an idea if there is a good chance of conviction, 
but there are no guarantees. A suspect may not be 
convicted for technical reasons — lack of evidence, 
improper procedures, etc. Some victims proceed with 
the court case despite the low conviction rate, because 
the cost of the process, the time and energy involved 
and the damage to his reputation are prices that the 
rapist pays even if he is acquitted. 

Going through the legal 

A decision to press charges means that you must 
follow the medical and legal protocol set up by the 
authorities in your area. It is a good idea to call the 
nearest rape crisis centre. People there know the 
protocol, may be able to be with you and your 
support person through the process, and can inform 
you of your rights and the purpose of certain 
procedures. Some rape crisis and sexual assault 
centre workers have a working relationship with 
police, doctors and lawyers who handle sexual 
assault cases. 

If you have been injured or beaten during the 
assault, it is important for the police to see your 
condition before you get cleaned up and treated. Your 
body and clothing form an important part of the 
evidence needed for the case. 

Do not bathe or douche until the medico-legal 
examination has been completed. This is especially 
true in states where proof of penetration is required. If 
you were forced to perform oral sex, try not to eat or 
drink anything until the tests are completed. 

Put your torn clothing, even if there is not much of it 
left, in a bag and give it to the police. Take fresh 
clothes with you to the medical examination. 

People you meet throughout the legal process 
(police, doctors and lawyers) will have various attitudes 
toward women and sexual assault victims. Some may 
treat you as if the rape was you r fault (see Part 1 1 , page 
27-29) . Others may not believe your story and suggest 
that you are calling it rape merely because you are 
angry at the suspect for other reasons (See Part II, 
page 30). Some may be genuinely sympathetic and 
understanding, giving you real support. Consistent 
support from friends and family is crucial to deal with 
these attitudes. 

The initial report: When the police are first called 
with a report of an assault, two officers arrive where 
you are staying. Depending on the area, these officers 
could be two constables on duty in the neighbourhood; 
two police officers who work on the 'rape squad'; or 
two detectives who handle most of the rape inves- 

Page 1 7 

These officers will ask for a description of the 
assault. They take note of your appearance, your 
reactions to their questions and your behaviour. They 
are responsible for collecting any evidence which can 
be used to identify the suspect, establish lack of 
consent and support your story. 

They will then accompany you to the place where 
the medico-legal examination is done. Most police 
departments have a required protocol which assault 
victims who wish to prosecute must follow — i.e. the 
exam must take place in certain hospitals or centres 
where the doctor is known to be reliable and available 
for testimony. However, some police departments 
allow you to choose the doctor and place of exami- 
nation if they are assured that the proper medical 
procedures will be followed and the doctor agrees to 
testify in court. 

The medico-legal examination: The purpose of 
this examination is to collect evidence for the prose- 
cution. How you experience this examination depends 
largely on the sensitivity of the doctor. A sympathetic 
doctor who examines and collects evidence in a 
gentle manner can help ease the trauma of the 
examination and the assault. A cold, condescending 
approach can make you feel that the exam is another 
invasion of your privacy, another act of humiliation. It 
is not up to the doctor to make a "diagnosis" of rape, 
only to take evidence. If you are committed to pressing 
charges, this examination must be done. 

Different places may require some of these proce- 
dures and not others. In some places in the U.S., a 
police officer or detective must be present during the 
examination to protect you and to see that testing is 
done according to the law. You may be uncomfortable 
with this and request that the officer be out of view. 
S/hewill usually comply, since this isan uncomfortable 
aspect of police work. You may also request that 
someone be with you for support during the exami- 
nation (friend, rape crisis counselor, etc.). The police 
may not feel it's necessary to be present if they know 
the doctor is familiar with the legal protocol. 

When the doctor or nurse on duty is the first person 
to see you after the assault, s/he is required to take a 
statement from you about what happened. Both a 
detailed account of the assault and your emotional 
state upon arrival at the hospital are recorded. This 
forms part of the evidence in the case. 

The hospital staff notes the condition of your 
clothing and places each piece in a separate bag and 
labels it. The clothes are tested for seminal stains 
(presence of semen) and blood stains, as well as other 
clues to corroborate your story and to identify the 
assailant, i.e. blades of grass, rug fibers, sperm, etc.. 

Your injuries are noted, described and possibly 
photographed. Some places require permission from 
you before photographs are taken. If bruises become 
visible several days after the assault, call the police 
and ask that further photographs be taken. This 
evidence is crucial to determine the severity of the 

An internal and external gynecological examination 
is done to check for any injuries to the genitals. 
Secretions are collected from the vagina to establish 
the presence of sperm or any other foreign substances. 
A small syringe is inserted and fluid collected from 

deep inside the vagina. When there is not much 
secretion, a small amount of saline solution (salt 
water) is inserted into the vagina and then withdrawn. 

Your pubic hair and hair from other parts of the 
body are combed and samples taken to be analyzed . If 
appropriate, swabs from your mouth and anus are 
also taken to test for the presence of sperm. If you 
have been drugged, blood and urine samples are 
taken to test the drug level. 

The doctor may also scrape beneath your fingernails 
for skin which may belong to the assailant. This 
evidence is used to establish the extent of your 
struggle and the identification of the assailant, if 
unknown. If you have bite marks on your body, a 
dental specialist may be called in to collect evidence 
that will help identify the assailant. 

There are three major contradictions in the 
medico-legal examination: 

1) Many tests are done to identify the assailant 
even though he is known in most cases. When the 
issue of "consent" is at question, any well recorded, 
regular examination is adequate as evidence of injury. 

2) Evidence collected from your body for the pur- 
pose of identifying an unknown suspect is rarely 
used. Tests such as sperm identification, blood typing, 
samples of pubic hair and nail scrapings suggest that 
similar tests are done on the suspect to match the 
evidence. Since a suspect cannot be forced to undergo 
testing, evidence collected from you is only useful 
when he has a previous record and the information is 
in his file. 

3) Semen collected from the vagina to provide 
proof of penetration only provides proof of ejac- 
ulation. Often confused in the courtroom is- the fact 
that penetration and ejaculation are a) not the same 
thing, and b) do not always happen together. 

Page 18 

Once these tests are completed, you must still look 
after your medical needs (see page 12). Health care is 
not always included in the medico-legal examination, 
whose main purpose is to collect the evidence for the 

The Quebec government spent thousands of 
dollarsdeveloping and distributing a "sexual assault 
kit" to help health workers better meet the needs of 
rape victims and to streamline the medico-legal 
process of collecting evidence. Unfortunately, needs 
of the victim are lost in a protocol that turns out to 
betimeconsuming and complicated. Although use- 
ful in extreme cases, such as gang rape, "the kit" is 
inappropriate for most sexual assault cases. The 
government is now preparing a simplified version 
of the kit. 

It is unfortunate that so much money was spent 
on an inadequate "sexual assault kit", when so little 
money is available for rape crisis centres and 
prevention programs. 

The investigation: The detectives' investigation 
begins shortly after the initial report and medical 
examination. Several days after the initial report, one 
or two detectives will visit you. They ask you again to 
describe the assault. They either prepare a statement 
from what you have told them and ask you to sign it or 
they ask you to write what happened in your own 
words. Keep a copy of this statement or write another 
one out for yourself. Before the preliminary inquiry 
and the trial, use this to remember all the details of the 

Some detectives are understanding and try to make 
the questioning as painless as possible. Others hold 
some of the popular beliefs discussed in Part II of this 
book and might treat you as the guilty party. Since 
you may be particularly vulnerable at this time, it is 
very important to have support people around. 

In some areas of the United States (and until 
recently in parts of Canada), you may be asked to take 

a lie detector test (polygraph) if any of the detectives 
on the case does not believe your story. In some 
places, the test is routine, though it cannot be used as 
evidence and you are not legally required to take it. 

Before the detectives leave, take down the phone 
numbers where they can be reached. Over the next 
little while, you may remember additional details 
which will help their investigation. 

During the following days and weeks, you may be 
asked to go to the police station to identify the 
suspect, if he is a stranger. You may be asked to look 
at mug shots, to help with a composite drawing, or, if 
someone is apprehended, to identify him in a line-up. 

After the suspect has been apprehended and iden- 
tified, a bail hearing may be held. This is done when 
the suspect is considered either dangerous to the 
community or unlikely to show up for the trial. You are 
not required to attend. If no bail hearing is held, the 
suspect is released on his own recognizance (his 
word that he will show up for the trial). 

When the detectives finish collecting the evidence 
and preparing the case, the information is sent to the 
Crown (or State) prosecutor. If the accused pleads 
guilty to the charge, no trial is needed and you do not 
have to testify in court. You may be asked to testify at a 
sentence hearing. 

Depending on the degree of violence and injury, a 
sexual assault is tried as a summary conviction or an 
indictable offence. A summary conviction is a less 
serious crime (a stranger forced you to kiss him, you 
were harassed on a bus). It carries a lesser fine and the 
trial is convened very shortly after the offence. The 
more serious indictable offence carries stiffer penalties 
and more complicated judicial procedures, including 
a preliminary inquiry before the trial, must be followed. 

Meeting the prosecutor: Before the preliminary 
inquiry, you will meet the Crown (or State) prosecutor. 
S/he is the lawyer who tries to prove that an assault 
did take place between you and the accused. This 
meeting may occur a few minutes or a few days before 
the preliminary inquiry. 

Lawyers who work as prosecutors are on salary and 
do not choose, the cases they represent. In some 
areas, certain prosecutors are assigned to most assault 
cases. They usually have little control, however, in 
determining how much time they can spend on any 
one case. Most prosecutors work in this way to gain 
experience for their own future law firms. 

Some prosecutors are very good at preparing sexual 
assault victims for the trial experience. They can show 
you the kind of treatment to expect in the courtroom 
and instruct you on how to handle distasteful questions, 
and still remain supportive. Other prosecutors leave 
you feeling like no one is representing your interests. 
You may feel as harassed by the prosecutor as by the 
defence lawyer. 

Because of these difficulties, some women choose 
to pay for the services of a private lawyer. A private 
lawyer assists the Crown and cannot represent the 
case, but does work with you. You see your own 
lawyer several times before the hearing, allowing you 
to establish some rapport and trust. You will probably 
get more information about court proceedings and 
the central issues of the trial. The main disadvantage 
is the high lawyers' fees; therefore, this is not an 

Page 19 

option for the majority of rape victims. 

To avoid having your name publicized in media 
coverage of the assault trial, you must ask the prose- 
cutor to request a non publication order from the 
judge. In sexual assault cases, these are usually 
granted, but they must be requested by the Crown at 
the very beginning of the preliminary inquiry and the 

The preliminary inquiry: The time it takes for a 
case to come to a preliminary hearing depends on 
how busy the courts are and whether or not the 
suspect has been released on bail. It usually takes 
place within 6 to 9 months after the assault. 

The purpose of the hearing is to decide if there is 
enough evidence to warrant a trial and to give the 
defence counsel and the accused a chance to hear the 
Crown's evidence. This is a weeding-out process 
within the judicial system. The decision to proceed to 
trial is made by the judge after all the evidence has 
been presented. 

The preliminary inquiry is much like a trial only 
shorter. All witnesses are called to the stand, ques- 
tioned and cross-examined. The procedure usually 
lasts no longer than one day. 

Within the next few months, the judge decides if 
there is enough evidence for the case to proceed to 
trial. If you are not notified of the trial date after 2-3 
months, call the police officers handling your case or 
the Crown prosecutor. You have a right to know what 
is happening in the case. 

The trial: The trial follows the preliminary inquiry. 
Again, the amount of time between these two events 
depends on how busy the courts are and whether the 
suspect is out on bail or in jail. Sometimes the trial 
date is set and later postponed at the request of the 
defence counsel. Expect a 6 to 9 month delay between 
the inquiry and the trial. The trial usually lasts about 4 


The trial is held in criminal court. The suspect, as 
any defendant, has the right to choose a trial by judge 
or a trial by judge and jury. A jury trial is usually 
requested because precedence shows that a trial by 
jury has a better chance of acquittal. The suspect 
does not have to testify at his own trial. 

As a witness at a criminal trial, your travel costs and 
a small meal allowance are paid by the court. You may 
also request a small witness fee, but the court does 
not reimburse you for salary lost during the trial. 
Speak to the Crown prosecutor about what the court 
provides, and ask your union or work place about 
provisions for employees who must appear in court. 

A defence lawyer uses different types of arguments 
to prove the innocence of the suspect: 

1) Lack of positive identification of the suspect: In 

this case, the defence lawyer attempts to prove that 
the suspect is not the man who assaulted you. They 
do not question /fthe assault occurred; the question is 
who did it. This type of defence is usually used when 
the man is a stranger to the victim or when there is 
more than one assailant. He may have an alibi that he 
was somewhere else at the time of the assault. 

2) The victim consented to sexual activity: This is 
the most common defence in assault trials. The 
defence lawyer attempts to show that your claim of 
assault is false. If allowed, s/he will malign your 
character and sexual history to undermine the cred- 
ibility of your testimony. In short, the defence lawyer 
tries to prove that you had ulterior motives, that you 
consented to sex with the suspect and then changed 
your mind after the event. 

In states where the issue of penetration is crucial to 
the definition of "rape", defence lawyers often attempt 
to prove, with the support of medical evidence, that no 
penis-vagina contact occurred. Before the actual trial, 
the lawyer may try to bargain for a lesser charge 
(indecent assault, gross indecency) instead of the 
rape charge. 

Many statements presented by defence lawyers to 
the judge and/or jury resemble popular beliefs about 
rape victims discussed in Part II. Acquittal of suspects 
often depend on these negative images of women and 
assault victims. Some concluding statements fre- 
quently made by defence lawyers are paraphrased 

"Everyone knows how hard it is to make love to a 
woman who does not want to. How hard did this 
woman actually try to get away from this man?" 

"From the events which have been described, it 
seems that our 'victim' flirted and tantalized the 
suspect. And then, when he proceeds to indulge her 
wishes, she suddenly changes her mind. And what is 
he to do? Are these the actions of a respectable 

"This case actually boils down to one person's word 
against another's. And from past experiences, we all 
know the large numbers of 'unfounded' cases each 
year of women who cry 'rape' after they have not been 
sexually satisfied." 

You must try to separate the defence lawyer's image 
of you from your own self image. To hear yourself 
described in such negative terms can be traumatic. 
Because popular beliefs about rape victims are applied 

Page 20 

to women in general, these negative images are 
extremely difficult to cope with. Many marriages, 
friendships and families have trouble handling the 
stress of a trial, just when you most need support. 
Knowing in advance that your credibility will be 
challenged and that you might be described in very 
negative terms can reduce some of the stress. 

After the trial: After all the evidence is heard, if 
there is a jury, the judge instructs the jury to render a 
verdict. The jury does not return to the courtroom 
until a decision has been reached. In a trial by judge, 
s/he studies all the evidence before reaching a decision. 
The verdict may be announced immediately or may 
take a few days or weeks. 

If a guilty verdict is reached, the judge decides on 
the sentence. This usually takes another few weeks. 
The sentence depends on the degree of the assault, 
the background and previous record of the rapist and 
a presentencing report by a probation officer. The 
judge may request a sentence hearing and you may 
be asked to testify at that time. 

The defendant or the Crown can ask the court of 
appeal to review either the verdict or the sentence. 
When the court of appeal agrees to hear the case 
again, the arguments of the lawyers and the transcripts 
of the trial are reviewed. If a new trial is ordered, you 
may be asked to testify again. 

Remember that even if a suspect is acquitted, he 
has had to pay for the court process with money, time 
and worry. Understanding that sexual assault cases 
have the lowest conviction rate for any crimes of 
violence may relieve some of your personal stress. 
Whatever the outcome, a woman who goes through a 
sexual assault trial is to be applauded for her courage. 

new assault laws in Canada 

In 1983, the Canadian government changed the 
laws governing rape and sexual offenses to resolve 
some of the problems inherent in the old law. Three 
categories of sexual assault replace the term "rape": 

Simple sexual assault: Any attack of a sexual 
nature in which some force is used. This could 
include forced kissing, bum pinching and forced 
intercourse. No sign of physical injury or abuse is 
necessary. As an indictable offence (see page 18), 
simple sexual assault carries a maximum sentence 
of 10 years. As a summary conviction (p. 18), the 
charge carries a maximum 6 months in jail and a 
maximum fine of $2,000. 

Sexual assault with a weapon: More than one 
assailant is involved and/or the offender uses, 
carries or threatens to use a weapon (imitation or 
real); threatens to inflict bodily harm on a third 
person (a child or another person present); injures 
the complainant. Maximum sentence for this offence 
is 14 years imprisonment. 

Aggravated sexual assault: During the assault, 
the victim is wounded, maimed, disfigured, brutally 
beaten or in danger of losing her life. The maximum 
sentence is life imprisonment. 

The "Rape Shield" law was also introduced in 
1983. It severely restricted the routine examination 
of the victim's previous sexual history and 
character — a procedure which often humiliated the 
victim and discredited her claim of sexual assault. 

However, in August 1991, the Supreme Court of 
Canada declared the "Rape Shield" law 
unconstitutional because it could block evidence 
that might be important to the defence of the 
accused. This ruling forced the government to 
propose further legal changes that would address 
the age-old conflict between the rights of the 
accused and those of the victim. 

A new law, passed in June 1992, specifies when 
and how the victim's previous sexual history and 
character may be introduced during a trial. The 
victim's sexual history may never be used to show 
that she might have consented to the sexual activity 
in question, or that she is not worth believing. 

The 1992 law, sometimes called the "No Means 
No" law, attempts to clearly define "consent": a 
person's voluntary agreement, by words or conduct, 
to engage in sexual activity. The law also states that 
a person has the right to change his/her mind at any 
point in a sexual encounter and to withdraw consent 
by words or conduct. 

The accused will not be able to plead "honest 
belief of consent" as was previously possible. 

Progressive aspects of the law 

The different categories of sexual assault are 
defined by the extent of physical harm inflicted on 
the victim — an important step in recognizing sexual 
assault as a crime of violence, rather than of sexual 

Any forced sexual act constitutes sexual assault, 
not only penetration of the vagina. 

The law is no longer gender-specific and offers 
protection to both women and men as victims of 
sexual assault. 

The relationship between the offender and the 
victim prior to the offence does not determine the 
existence — or the gravity — of the crime. A husband 
is no longer immune from legal action if he sexually 
assaults his wife. 

The victim is no longer required to report the 
assault "at the first reasonable opportunity". In the 
past, the credibility of the victim was often reduced 
if she did not immediately tell someone about the 
rape. This regulation severely limited the number of 
victims who filed complaints. Since 1984, police 
reports of sexual assault have almost doubled. 

The law no longer requires corroboration for 
charges such as incest, gross indecency or any of 
the degrees of sexual assault. Many assault cases 
reported under the old law did not make it to court 
because there was no concrete evidence that the 
assault occurred (i.e. the violence was only 
threatened; the assailant did not ejaculate so there 
was no proof of penetration, etc.). 

Many people like the "No Means No" law because 
it acknowledges the fact that most sexual violence 
occurs between people who know each other and 
requires that men and women actively express their 
consent for each sexual act. 

Criticisms of the law 

Problems with the law are reflected in the way it is 
applied across the country. Its application varies 
from judge to judge, from court to court, and can 

Page 21 
still reflect sexist and racist attitudes about victims 
and assailants. 

One Montreal prosecutor says that older, more 
traditional judges still give out light sentences to 
convicted rapists when the woman has had a few 
drinks or when she was out walking alone at night. 
The belief that a woman who takes such risks 
deserves the consequences is now reflected in the 
sentencing of the offender, rather than in the charge. 

The conviction rate for charges of simple sexual 
assault remains low. Although over 90% of reported 
cases now make it to the courtroom, only 40% 
result in conviction. 

Some civil libertarians criticize the 1992 law, 
recognizing that consent is not always clear-cut. 
They claim that a man could be accused of sexual 
violence just for trying to kiss a woman, or that a 
guy might only find out if a woman likes him after he 
has kissed or touched her. They are also concerned 
about sections of the law dealing with a person's 
ability to consent; will having sex with a person who 
is drunk put a person at risk of accusations of 
sexual assault? 






Anti-stalking law 

In many U.S. states and in Canada since June 
1993, stalking or criminal harassment is an offence. 
The crime involves repeated following, 
communicating, watching or threatening that causes 
a person to reasonably fear for her safety or the 
safety of anyone she knows. A conviction could 
result in a maximum 5 year sentence, which should 
grant increased protection to women who are 
obsessively pursued by ex-husbands or boyfriends. 

In Canada, the law also allows judges to ban 
convicted child molesters from going to parks, day 
care centres and other places frequented by 

Although the new laws are steps in the right 
direction, laws do not change attitudes and 
behaviours. There is still a lot of work to be done to 
reduce the over-all incidence of sexual violence, to 
erase beliefs that some women "ask for it", to give 
rape victims fair legal recourse and to punish 

Page 22 

the psychological 
impact of sexual assault 

If you have been sexually assaulted, you have been 
abused in a violent manner. Your life may have been 
threatened. Your innermost psychological and physical 
privacy have been invaded. It is an experience which 
necessarily upsets your psychic balance and you may 
find even the simplest routines difficult to deal with for 
a while. Scars left from such an event may take days, 
months, even years to heal. 

All victims of sexual assault do not experience the 
same post-rape trauma, nor is this trauma expressed 
in the same way. The impact of such an experience 
varies. Since women show their pain and fear in 
different ways, assault victims require different kinds 
and amounts of support and care. However, we can 
speak about a process which many women go through 
when they react and begin to deal with what has 
happened to them. 

Findings of research on post-rape reactions are 
applicable not just to an assault experience, but to any 
traumatic crisis in a person's life. There are basically 
three phases in people's reactions to an assault: the 
impact of the experience; readjusting to everyday life; 
and integration of the event into your life experience. 

We describe feelings which you may have during 
these phases and behaviours you might exhibit. We 
also discuss the importance of support during each 
phase, including the effects of negative and positive 
help, as well as some practical ways of giving useful 
support. These descriptions should help you under- 
stand what you are feeling and provide others with a 
better idea of what you need. 

As a victim of sexual assault, your life and relation- 
ships are affected by the trauma you have experienced. 
One of your goals is to emerge as a survivor someone 
who has integrated a traumatic experience and goes 
on to enjoy her life and independence. 

The impact 

The first phase of assault trauma is by far the most 
intense and crucial time. An atmosphere is created 
during the first few moments or days after the assault. 
Your initial feelings and those you see expressed by 
others can determine whether your crisis is temporary 
or long term. 

Feelings: First feelings after a rape can vary 
greatly. Below are some of these feelings as described 
by several women who had them: 

Feeling dirty: "I couldn't get rid of the feeling that 
I was filthy on the outside and the inside of my body. 
I wanted that sense back that I used to get when I 
got out of the shower:feeling fresh and clean." 

Shock and disbelief: "I felt numb all over. The 
whole world seemed different to me. Nothing was 
quite real. I kept wondering over and over again: 
'How could this happen to me; how could this 
happen to me'?" 

Anger: "I was enraged. I was so mad. How could 
he have treated me that way, done that to me? And I 
was angry that I had to take it; that I was so scared 
that I had to just take it from him." 

Fear: "The terror was really overpowering. I have 
never felt anything like it. I was scared that it would 
happen all over again. I was scared that I might have 
been kilted... I was scared of everything. I just had a 
scared feeling the whole time." 

Guilt and self-blame: "I kept going over the whole 
thing again and again. Looking at every detail of 
what I did. I was convinced it was my fault. ..that if I 
had not gone to the party, had not had a few drinks, 
had nottalked to him, it would not have happened. ...It 
took me a long time to see that I didn't do anything 

Elation: "I felt very happy and relieved to be alive. 
Everything around me took on a whole new glow 
and freshness. I couldn't believe I got out of there. 
But I thought something must be wrong with me to 
feel this way after just having been assaulted." 

Frequently all these feelings occur, and you and 
your friends may become very confused as you jump 
from one emotion to another. 

Behaviour: For a while, you may become a very 
different person since the feelings you are having are 
unusual, very intense and quite painful. You may walk 
around in a daze, your movements very mechanical 
and automatic. You may be totally unaware of what is 
going on around you — always seeming to be "off 
somewhere", dreaming. Or you could appear very 
cool and calm when approached with questions or 
decisions, preferring to keep these feelings to yourself. 
You might lapse into periods of sobbing, then become 
calm, only to start crying again. You might cry for 
days, feeling totally out of control and unable to 
handle the range of emotions you are feeling. 

You may want to escape from the world completely 
for a time. You might refuse to go to work, refuse to 
see anyone; you might want to hide and may even go 
to bed for a week or more. Or you may not want to be 
left alone at all after the assault. The fear that you 
experienced does not go away when the assailant 
leaves. You may be afraid to go outside alone (and 
even with others); you may worry about being with too 
many people, wondering if they are all discussing 
what has happened to you. 

All these behaviours and feelings are normal 
expressions of emotions during the "impact" 
is important that you are supported and cared for 
during this time, so that you feel secure and the 
turmoil can subside. 

Support: The quality and extent of the support you 
are given during this time is very important. Insensitive 
and accusatory attitudes may further increase (and 
sometimes create) feelings of guilt and self-blame. If 
you are regarded as having created a crisis for others 
(your parents, boyfriend, husband), you may retreat, 
understandably, into yourself and internalize the 
negative feelings others have toward you. 

Support which encourages you to recognize your 
reactions as normal, your behaviour as understandable 
and your questions as necessary will enable you to 
regain self-confidence very shortly after the assault. 

Page 23 

Feeling an atmosphere of warm caring and confidence 
around you can help this happen. Try to talk about the 
assault. Getting your thoughts and feelings into 
words can put them in perspective and diminish the 
nightmare quality they have when they are locked in 
your own head. 

If you are supporting someone who has been 
assaulted, listen to what she is saying. Encourage her 
to express her feelings — guilt, anger, disbelief, etc. 
None of her feelings should be regarded as useless, 
silly or inappropriate. They are all part of the healing 
process. Often family and friends do not want to talk 
about the rape, believing it is better to forget about it. 
The woman, however, cannot forget it and may 
interpret your avoidance of the subject as embar- 
rassment or blame. If speaking about the assault is too 
difficult for those close to the victim, encourage her to 
contact a rape crisis centre or a counsellor who can 
help everyone deal with the assault in an open, 
constructive way. 

Remember that practical support is also needed by 
someone who is sorting out an assault experience. 
Helping her with decisions that must be made about 
pressing charges and going with her to the doctor, the 
police and lawyers will help her feel less alone and 
isolated. If she cannot handle going to work, find 
someone who can cover for her. Arrange child care, if 
necessary. Answer the telephone and doorbell when 
she is not feeling up to conversation and visitors. 


Slowly you will approach the point where you want 
to handle the practical problems and situations in 
your life again. 

Feelings: This phase is marked by feeling that you 
are ready to resume your daily routines. Now you 
want to take the assault out of the limelight and 
concentrate on other aspects of your life which were 
temporarily ignored or pushed aside. You probably 
feel some relief because you are less obsessed by the 
assault and, therefore, may deny that you are troubled 
by it at all. Though you may still experience nightmares 
or be startled when someone enters the room, generally 
this is a time of less intense and fewer painful feelings. 

Behaviour: The important factor during this time is 
movement. Whether you decide to reassemble your 
old life or make some big changes (a new place to live, 
a new job, etc.), you are trying to construct a lifestyle 
where you can feel comfortable once again. Energy 
which had been focused on feelings or talking or even 
on repressing the assault, now goes into activities, 
taking care of yourself. Although there may still be 
some dependence on people closest to you, you will 
probably talk a lot less about the event and how you 
are feeling. 

Support: It is important for people who are sup- 
porting you to respect your progress but not to deny 
your experience. Though external movement and 
activities are necessary, internal (emotional) resolution 
is also important. The activity of reconstructing your 
life can give you a new perspective on your feelings 
about the assault and your actions during it. Try to 
reflect on the assault from time to time, if only to 
appreciate how much you have changed. 

As a support person, you might have to remind the 
woman about her medical follow-up for STD's. If she 
temporarily moved ih with you after the assault and 
has now gone back home, invite heroverfordinneror 
even for the night. There should be a gradual weaning 
of the intense support, with a clear message that she 
can still depend on you when she needs to. 

During this time, many husbands and boyfriends 
find it difficult to support the woman. She may still 
recoil from sexual involvement even though she 
seems to be over the trauma. She may even initiate 
sexual activity, only to stop in the middle. Be gentle, 
understanding and supportive of her gradual approach. 
Pressure to have sex can easily recreate the atmosphere 
of the assault and make getting back into the relation- 
ship longer and more difficult for her. 


Now that you can deal with your daily activities, you 
may want to again reflect on the assault in order to 
understand any questions or feelings which are still 

Feelings: During this time, you will try to reconcile 
your thoughts and feelings about the assault. Feelings 
of frustration, anger and guilt may reappear as you 
attempt to resolve whether you had any responsibility 
for the crime. For the first time, you may feel anger at 
the rapist and at those who have dealt with you in an 
insensitive way. This is a period of personal intro- 
spection and you may feel cut off from others, 
especially from those whose support is ambiguous. 
You may become very discouraged if you perceive 
that, despite all your efforts to reconstruct your life, 
you are still plagued by nightmares, fears of being 
alone at night, feelings of paranoia and an inability to 
enjoy sex. This time often coincides with the trial if 
you are pressing charges, and a reliving of the 
feelings right after the assault. Though you have 
come a long way, you may feel discouraged and that 
all your changes were only temporary cover-ups. 

Behaviour: You may want some time alone to 
reflect upon, rather than to escape from, reality. 
During this process, you may seek out someone to 

Page 24 

talk to — someone to help you resolve questions and 
feelings you still do not understand. You may act out 
your angry feelings about the rapist on those close to 
you. You may revise earlier decisions when you were 
trying to feel secure (living at home, forexample). You 
may now try to establish a lifestyle which can reflect 
your attempt to be a free, independent person once 

Support: This is the time to remember that the 
impact of a sexual assault is deep and takes time to 
resolve. You should be gently reminded of the severity 
of the experience when you feel you are falling short 
of your expectations to recover. 

If you are supporting an assault victim, remember 
that any anger toward the rapist which might be 
directed at you should not be taken personally. 
Although she may need to spend time alone, don't 
forget that she still needs active support. 

Attitudes of police and lawyers during the trial 
might be very critical of her behaviour and motivations. 
She should be reminded that these are attitudes in our 
society towards women, not towards her personally. 

This can bea long and difficulttimeand the woman 
may want some counselling. Though she can be 
encouraged to seek this help, it should not be an 
excuse for those close to her to discontinue their help. 

Good therapists are hard to find. Friends and family 
should not be afraid to interfere if she is not responding 
to the counsellor she has chosen. Help her to look 
critically at the ideas and values of the therapist she is 
seeing, and suggest that she change counsellors if 

Consider these phases as a process which many 
sexually assaulted women go through. They are not a 
checklist for acceptable or unacceptable behaviour. 
Each woman is an individual and responds in herown 
unique way. As with all processes, some people stop 
along the way and progress no further. If you are still 
having difficulty with the assault many years later, it 
might be helpful to look at the kind of support, or 
non-support, you received at the time. 

You may doubt your own ability to deal with such a 
crisis, forgetting the difficulty of your task. You must 
reintegrate into an environment where rape is a 
common occurrence. You must learn how to live with 
the experience, knowing that it could happen again. 
Having had a painful lesson about women's position 
in society, you will probably not return to your pre- 
assault state of mind. Once you have accepted what 
has happened to you and grown wiser as a result, you 
will find that you are no longer a "victim" of sexual 
assault. As one of many "survivors", you will help 
create a new image: women can indeed fight back. 

Page 25 

part II 

sexual assault 
in society 

"The fear of sexual assault is a special fear; its 
intensity in women can best be likened to the male 
fear of castration. " 

Germaine Greer 

All women, at various points in their lives, experience 
fear of sexual assault: a fear that sharpens a woman's 
wits when she is out late and unaccompanied; a fear 
that maintains the traditional female role by inhibiting 
behaviour that carries risk of sexual assault; and a fear 
of bodily harm and humiliation. The social reper- 
cussions of sexual assault are also feared: dishonour, 
low status, ostracism, ridicule, suspicion. Unlikeother 
crimes of violence, victims of sexual assault are 
suspect for their role in the assault. 

Still today, most people seem to believe that the 
primary responsibility for sexual assault lies with the 
woman, that it is up to her to avoid the assault. Such 
beliefs are deeply rooted in historical definitions of 
the nature of women and in those conditions of 
history which made women the property of men. 
Though times have changed, old ways die hard. 
These conditions continue to exert a strong influence 
over our behaviour, over our minds, and they are 
evident in the popular beliefs about victims and 
perpetrators of sexual assault. 

As with most popular beliefs, those about rape are 
rarely challenged in any systematic or popular way. 
Accepted as general truths, they are internalized by 
both men and women. They can exert a strong 
influence over the behaviour of people involved — the 
victim, the rapist and the various institutions that deal 
with sexual assault. The most common beliefs are: 

About victims of sexual assault: 

1 . It is not really possible to rape a non-consenting 

2. Women ask to be raped (and probably enjoy it). 

3. Only "loose" women get raped; nice girls don't 
get raped. 

4. Women commonly report rape that has not 

About the rapists: 

1. The man who rapes is mentally or emotionally 

2. Men who rape choose victims they don't know. 

3. Men rape because they have uncontrollable sex 

There are two major differences between beliefs 
about rape victims and those about the perpetrators 
of sexual assault. The popular beliefs about victims 
contain ideas about the nature of women and so they 
easily extend to all women. This is not true of the 
popular beliefs about rapists which are so narrow that 
most men would not identify with their motives or 

The second difference between the popular beliefs 
about victims and rapists concerns the responsibility 
for rape. In all four beliefs about rape victims, the 
woman's behaviour is seen as at least partly responsible 
for the assault. Much of the trauma experienced by 
rape victims comes from self-doubt and guilt engen- 
dered by these beliefs: Could I have prevented it? Did I 
look like I was asking for it? 

The rapist, according to these popular beliefs, acts 
as a result of some larger force out of his control — his 
impulsive sexuality, his mental and emotional dis- 
turbance. Rapists often blame the woman: she wanted 
it; she got me excited; she didn't really mean "no". 

People are not always conscious that they hold 
these beliefs. But they can be identified in the reactions 
of rape victims, rapists, police, doctors, courts of law 
and victims' family and friends. 

Contradictory popular beliefs can and do exist 
along side one another. For example, one can believe 
that women cannot be raped if they don't want to be. 
At the same time, one can believe that rape is an 
inevitable feature of our society. One belief negates 
the existence of sexual assault, while the other views it 
as inevitable. Despite their contradictory nature, these 
popular beliefs influence both individual and institu- 
tional responses to rape in our society. 

Page 26 

popular beliefs about 
rape victims 

Four popular beliefs about the victims of sexual 
assault recur consistently in individual and institutional 
responses to rape in our society. Underlying these 
popular beliefs about the rape victim are questionable 
assumptions about the nature of women. 

Women and girls are almost exclusively the victims 
of sexual assault. And once a victim, regardless of the 
form of assault, the woman must prove these beliefs 
wrong. Although her virtue will not be questioned if 
she dies in the assault, she will most likely survive the 
attack and will confront some form of these beliefs. 
the reactions of her family and friends, in her own 
mind, in the medical treatment she receives, in the 
attitudes of the police, and, if she pursues the case, in 
the courts of law. 

We examine the implications and validity of each 
belief and conclude with a look at the origin of these 
beliefs and the agents which serve to perpetuate 

1 . It is not really possible to rape a non-consenting 

This belief implies that there is no such thing as sexual 
assault; a woman must consent in order for sexual 
intercourse to take place. To accept this belief is to 
deal with rape in bad faith; it absolves men from the 
responsibility of forced sexual intercourse on the 
grounds that the woman who truly wants to can do 
something to prevent it. It suggests that women must 
be severely beaten in order to prove resistance. 

We were surprised in our talks with adolescents to 
find that an old and false counterpart to this belief 
is still quite common: a woman can somehow lock 
her legs so as to avoid being penetrated. Though 
this belief was more common to boys, a substantial 
portion of the girls thought they might be able to do 
this if faced with a sexual assault. 

Police protocol during a report of sexual assault is 
partially conditioned by this belief. While police must 
sort out false claims from true ones, the fervor with 
which this is frequently done actually prevents women 
from reporting the assault. Unlike other crimes of 
violence, sexual assault has a disproportionate number 
of cases with dropped charges. The proportion of 
suspects actually brought to trial once charges are 
laid is lower for rape than any other crime against a 

In legal circles, this popular belief is known as the 
"moving target theory" (you can't thread a moving 
needle) and has been used successfully in defences 
against rape charges. In one court case, the defence 
lawyer, holding a coke bottle, challenged the prose- 
cuting attorney to stick his pencil in the bottle. The 
defence lawyer ran around the court room with the 
bottle, making it impossible for the prosecuting lawyer 
to insert the pencil. The crude analogy between the 
coke bottle and the vagina, the pencil and the penis, 
was supposed to prove that the woman could not be 
penetrated if she truly did not want to be. 

Perhaps the most devastating effects of this popular 
belief are felt by rape victims themselves. Even a small 
degree of acceptance of this belief means that the 
victim could be consumed with self-doubt, guilt and, 
to some extent, self-hatred. Such emotions make 
recovery from rape all the more difficult. These 
feelings are reinforced by social attitudes and laws 
which require "evidence of struggle" — some tangible 
proof that the woman tried to escape but was physically 
overpowered or injured during her efforts to leave. We 
have spoken with a large number of rape survivors 
who, even years after the assault, are plagued by self- 
doubt and guilt over not having been able to prevent 
the rape. This is not the case for victims of most other 
crimes of violence. 

Is this popular belief valid? 

It is indeed possible to rape a non-consenting 
woman. The first and most obvious reason for this 
possibility is the anatomy of males and females. An 
erect penis is capable of penetrating any female 
orifice, particularly when the female is held down. 
This is a biological fact. That the penis can be used 

Page 27 

this way is rooted in anatomy; that it is used for forced 
intercourse is rooted in culture (see page 39). 

A second reason for the invalidity of this belief lies 
in the socialization process. Most men receive physical 
training in strength and quickness and psychological 
training in assertiveness. It is difficult for a woman to 
prevent a sexual assault when she is physically less 
trained in strength and quickness, psychologically 
trained to be passive, gentle and nurturing, and 
socially trained to please others. When carried to the 
extreme, socialized feminine and masculine roles 
make rape an act of conformity rather than one of 

Furthermore, evidence indicates that often victims 
face much more than just the possibility of unwanted 
sex. The Canadian Advisory Council estimates that 
62% of victims are physically injured in the attack and 
9% of those are severely beaten. Many rapists use 
weapons and threaten the victim with violence or 
death . Few people are trained to handle these situations 
and self-defence techniques specifically designed for 
women are not yet available on a widespread basis 
(see page 9). 

Anywhere from 30-50% of reported sexual assaults 
are "gang rapes" — two or more assailants against a 
single woman. When there are 3 or more assailants 
involved, there is a 90% chance that the rape is 
planned in advance. Women can learn specific tech- 
niques to deal with multiple attackers, but this is a 
difficult situation to avert for a man or a woman. 

Though statistics on the proportion of 'date' rapes 
are not available because these events go largely 
unreported, the majority of women we spoke to 
experienced rape of this kind. In these rapes some 
degree of physical force may be used, but social- 
psychological coercion predominates. 

The most common scenario for this type of rape 
involves a couple on a date or at a party. Usually there 
is some sexual play towards the end of the evening, 
verbal resistance from the woman, physical and 
verbal insistence from the male, followed by submission 
on the part of the woman. The rationale for submission 
varies. The woman may want to "get it over with"; she 
may be embarrassed to call for help; she may be the 
well-socialized woman who feels responsible for the 
man's sexual arousal and therefore submits to it. 

In many ways, date rapes are the most difficult to 
handle. Though the woman may define the scene as 
sexual assault, the man may see her final submission 
as evidence that she just wanted to be coaxed, 
perhaps even overpowered. He will likely not see his 
own behaviour as sexual assault but as successful 
seduction. In one study, college males who admitted 
to coercing a female into sexual intercourse justified 
their actions in these ways: the woman changed her 
mind too late in the act; he was drunk and sexually 
aroused so lost his sense of judgement; he did not 
believe that the woman's resistance was genuine. 

We know of one such incident in which the partic- 
ipants emerged with completely different per- 
ceptions of what had transpired. During a party, the 
woman wandered into a bedroom where her date later 
found her asleep. He did not heed her protests to his 
sexual advances. Eventually, unable to overpower 
him, she submitted to sexual intercourse. For her, 
sexual submission was preferable to drawing attention 

of the partying group to her difficult position. This 
would have meant loss of face, embarrassment, pos- 
sibly even ridicule. She chose to submit to what she 
perceived as forced sexual intercourse and afterwards 
left the party, refusing to see him again. She defined 
the scenario as rape. In his mind, the conquest was 
just part of the fun. 

Women are more likely to use verbal resistance as 
their sole defence against unwanted intercourse when 
the man is a friend or acquaintance. When verbal 
resistance is not successful, yelling for help or using 
effective physical resistance is more difficult with 
someone the woman knows. Submission to coercive 
sexual intercourse is frequently seen as the easy way 
out. The fact that men may have a different perception 
in these instances renders the situation all the more 
complex and all the more likely to be repeated. 

Approximately 50% of all reported rapes are between 
people who know each other. But the actual percentage 
of these rapes is much higher because most are not 
reported and therefore do not show up in statistics. 

2. Women ask for it.. .(and probably enjoy it). 

Underlying this popular belief is a mystique which 
continues to surround female sexuality. Historically, 
definitions of female sexuality have fluctuated. Insa- 
tiable lust was attributed to women by the Roman 
Catholic patriarchs a few centuries ago. Their proof 
was that, unlike the male, the female is biologically 
always receptive. 

Masochism, made popular by interpretations of 
Freud, is another trait that has been ascribed to 
female sexuality. In this view, some women enjoy 
being brutalized and endangering their lives. Passivity, 

Page 28 

a cultural trait, is seen as a wish to be overpowered. 

These alleged sexuality traits — insatiable lust, 
masochism, the wish to be overpowered — are themes 
which appear repeatedly in male-produced porno- 

A crippling effect of this popular belief is the 
requirement that women severely curb their behaviour 
so as not to ask for sexual assault. Furthermore, the 
rapist, not the woman, ultimately decides what be- 
haviour constitutes asking for sexual assault. A woman 
walking alone at night or waiting at a bus stop is often 
defined as "asking for it". 

Police procedures in rape cases are strongly in- 
fluenced by this popular belief. When a woman is 
sexually assaulted while hitchhiking, while not wearing 
under clothing, while on a date (to give but a few 
examples of behaviours which might be defined as 
"asking for it"), the police might discourage legal 
pursuit of the offender. Even when the police are 
sympathetic to a woman's case, they know that her 
perception of the assault will not predominate in a 
court of law. 

The message is clear and one that we all understand. 
The onus is on women to avoid behaviour that men 
can interpret as a sexual invitation or to suffer the 

The legal defence of the offender usually relies 
heavily on this popular belief. A rape victim who 
presses charges which result in a trial will be faced 
with some form of accusation that she invited the 
assault, either through her behaviour or appearance. 

The defence strategy may take advantage of this 
popular idea by selecting female jurors, usually of a 
class and lifestyle different from the rape victim and 
thus unable to identify with her behaviour. (This is 
particularly true if the offender is a young man whom 
a woman juror may identify with a son.) Thisstrategy 
frequently meets with success; a woman who accepts 
and lives by the double standard of curbing her 
behaviour to avoid places or situations of potential 
sexual assault, usually condemns the rape victim for 
being in the wrong place at the wrong time, something 
she would not do. 

This popular belief functions as an instrument of 
control over the behaviour of women. Though the 
cost of greater freedom of movement for women does 
involve greater risk of sexual assault, women who take 
these risks are not asking to be sexually assaulted. 
Nor is the woman who conforms to the traditional 
code of behaviour for women free of the danger of 
sexual assault. It is true, however, that a woman who 
has been sexually assaulted will be plagued with the 
self-doubt engendered by this beiief ; she will scrutinize 
her behaviour and appearance for signs of "asking for 

Rape fantasies are sometimes used as proof that 
women want and enjoy rape. However, a person who 
is fantasizing is in complete control of the actions of 
the actors in her fantasy. This is the crucial difference 
between a rape fantasy and a rape reality. The two 
should not be confused. 





Page 29 

Is this popular belief valid? 

Women do not ask to be sexually assaulted. Nor do 
they enjoy forced intercourse. To believe that they do 
is to misunderstand the nature of rape. Sexual assault 
involves brutality — sometimes physical, sometimes 
psychological, sometimes only threatened, but always 

Neither biological receptivity nor socialized passivity 
can logically be construed as a desire to be sexually 
assaulted. In his studies during the late 19th century, 
Freud found masochistic traits in some of his disturbed 
female patients. Modern day psychology, greatly 
influenced by Freud's work, sometimes makes the 
mistake of applying these characteristics to all women. 

This popular belief does not account for rape as it 
actually occurs. Many sexual assaults involve women 
who are virgins, who are asleep in their homes or who 
permit entry to a man disguised as a repairman or in 
need of a telephone. 

Putting the onus on the woman to avoid rape by 
restricting her freedom of movement is a social 
injustice. This was perceptively noted by the late 
Prime Minister Golda Meir. When her all-male cabinet 
proposed a curfew on Israeli women to curb an 
outbreak of rapes, she answered: "But it is the men 
who are attacking the women. If there is to be a 
curfew, let the men stay home." 

3. Only 'loose' women get raped; nice girls 
don't get raped. 

Like the preceding popular beliefs, this one invokes 
the double standard and curbs the free movement of 
women. It implies that a woman who conforms to 
social definitions of "nice girl" behaviour will be free 
of the danger of sexual assault. This is false. 

This belief also implies that there is some commonly 
understood way to define what is "loose" and what is 
"nice". "Looseness" in our society can encompass a 
wide range of behaviours and appearances, and 
changes over the years. It can apply to a woman who 
wears a low neckline; a woman who has had premarital 
sex; a woman who hitchhikes; a woman who is on the 
street at night unaccompanied. Some of these 
behaviours are expressions of freedom of movement. 
Some are simply necessary to keep a job. Nurses and 
waitresses, for example, are frequently out late and 
unaccompanied. Saleswomen often travel alone. 

We should question why "loose" women are con- 
sidered to be deserving of sexual assault. We also 
need to remember that many of the indicators of 
"looseness" are not obvious. The definition of "loose" 
behaviour and appearance is first decided by the 
rapist, and, later, by the police and the legal system. 
Furthermore, once a woman has been sexually as- 
saulted, the definition of her virtue often changes. The 
rape itself may define her morality as "loose"; she 
must be thus if she was raped. 

This misconception is implicit in policequestioning 
of the rape victim. Though the police are responsible 
for collecting all relevant details in any crime, their 
questions attempt to establish whether the victim 
precipitated the crime through "loose" behaviour or 
appearance. In a robbery, no one suspects the victim 
of precipitating the crime by having money in his or 
her possession. 

We know of a case in which the survivor of a sexual 
assault, a former drug addict, left the scene of the rape 
and went directly to a nearby police station. She was 
sure that prompt action would lead to the arrest of the 
rapist. She was cut and bruised and had a clear 
description of the rapist and of his car. The police 
began filing the report but stopped when they noticed 
tracesof her former addiction — tracks on herarms. It 
was useless to pursue the case, they suggested 
sympathetically. She would have no credibility in 
court. Herformer addiction defined heras "loose" and 
therefore deserving of assault. 

Legal defence of rapists relies heavily on this 
popular belief. In most American states, the sexual 
history of the rape victim is automatically considered 
relevant evidence in a rape trial. If the defence lawyer 
discovers that the woman has had premarital sex or 
several lovers, s/he is armed with ammunition that 
rarely fails. To establish that the rape victim is "loose" 
is frequently sufficient to secure a "not guilty" verdict 
for the defendant. Once a woman has consented to 
sexual intercourse outside of marriage, it is as though 
she has consented to have sexual intercourse with 
anyone thereafter. This belief, though not spelled out 
in the legal code, is applied in legal practice. 

In Canada, since 1979, the sexual history of the 
victim is not automatically considered relevant to a 
case. The defence lawyer must prove that information 
about the victim's past is crucial to deciding the case 
at hand. This evidence is presented privately to the 
judge, who then decides if the victim's sexual history 
should be presented to the jury. 

The belief that only "loose" women are raped 
appears to contradict the belief that it is not really 
possible to rape a non-consenting adult female. In 
fact, the two beliefs coincide. Neither acknowledges 
rape: if a woman is judged to be "loose", she does not 
have the right, according to sexual mores and most 
legal practices, to give or refuse consent. Hence 
assault may not be perceived as such, either by the 
rapist, the police or the legal institutions. She alone 
may perceive the event as sexual assault. 

Is this popular belief valid? 

This popular belief can be disproved by documenting 
the proportion of reported sexual assault victims who 
are virgins, monogamously married women or religious 
sisters. Sexual assault victims are as young as six 
months and as old as ninety years. None of these 
women could realistically be perceived as "loose" and 
fair game for sexual assault. But this misses the most 
important point: while virtue, as it has been traditionally 
defined, is no guarantee from sexual assault, whatever 
the morality of the woman in question, social justice 
demands that a woman's consent is necessary for 
each act of sexual intercourse, whatever her appear- 
ance, behaviour or sexual history. 

However, the question of consent is not an easy 
one. A woman who expresses a desire for sexual 
intimacy risks being labelled "an easy lay," "loose," 
"promiscuous," or "immoral". Because men do not 
face these risks when they express sexual interest, 
both sexes often expect men to make the first move. 
Sometimes men are even encouraged to be insistent 
so that women may avoid being seen as "loose". 

If we are to challenge the belief that only loose 

Page 30 

women get raped, we must also challenge the social 
restrictions placed on female sexuality. A woman's 
right to say "no" must be accompanied by the free 
right to say "yes" when she so desires. 

4. Women commonly report rape that has not 

This popular belief implies that women are vindictive 
and untrustworthy. It encourages great skepticism in 
rape accusations, as reflected in police treatment and 
legal procedures. The initial premise, despite the 
victim's physical condition, is to question if the sexual 
assault did occur; if the woman enjoyed it; if she 
precipitated the assault; if she is calling it rape 
because the man lost interest in her; and other such 
ulterior motives. 

The 1 985 Webb-Dobson case in the U.S. has refueled 
this popular belief. Cathleen Webb, fearing recrimi- 
nations from her foster parents, claimed she had been 
raped. Six years after the alleged offender had been 
sentenced, she admitted her lie. This rare occurrence 
made the front pages of newspapers across the 
continent and sparked questions about the number of 
other "innocent" victims serving time for "false" rape 
accusations. The intense focus on the rare false 
report diverts attention away from the large number of 
real rapes — those which end up in the "unfounded" 
file at police stations and those that never even get 
reported to the police. 

In trials of rape, the defence lawyer, capitalizing on 

another variation of this popular belief, attempts to 
establish the rape scenario as one of passion for both 
parties. He describes a sequence of events, often 
depicted in movies, to explain what occurred between 
the man and the woman: passionate resistance by the 
woman, culmination in erotic surrender and sub- 
mission. This image, though frequently portrayed in 
fantasy, does not exist in reality for women. It testifies 
to the sexual socialization of males in our society, 
which often links eroticism and conquest. 

Is this popular belief valid? 

Crime statistics reveal that rape has the same false 
accusation rate as other crimes of violence. Two 
percent (2%) of all accusations are later found to be 
false. False accusations of rape are not more numerous 
than those for murder or armed robbery. However, 
unlike other crimes of violence, rape has from 5 to 1 00 
unreported cases for each one that is brought to the 
police. The overwhelming majority of rape victims do 
not report the assault, nor do they seek medical 
attention. Even more rarely, do they seek justice in the 

The more important question is not why women 
report rape that has not occurred, but rather why so 
many rape victims do not report assaults that happen. 
One reason for the low reporting rate of sexual 
assault is the frequent uselessness of the report. 
Unless the woman has been brutally assaulted by the 
stereotyped psychopathic rapist or can prove that she 
was a virgin at the time of the assault or is a married 

Page 31 

woman of known respectability, reporting the assault 
entails continuing an experience she wants to forget. 
It is frequently a painful exercise in futility. Most 
women are well aware of this process. 

Recurring themes in reports from victims of sexual 
assault, alongside their humiliation over the injustice 
done to them, are self-doubt and guilt over not having 
been able to prevent the rape. This is especially 
common if the assault occurred when the woman was 
breaking the code of behaviour traditionally prescribed 
for women or if the assault was perpetrated by 
someone known to her. Women are no more immune 
to these popular beliefs than anyone else. A woman's 
self-doubt about precipitating the assault is another 
reason for the iack of sexual assault reports. 

The definition of assault and of behaviour and 
appearances deemed precipitous are made first by 
the rapist, then by the police and finally by the 
lawyers, judge and jury in a rape trial. The police and 
legal system are assumed to represent all persons in 
society; yet, in sexual assault cases, neither the 
woman's intent (wearing tight clothes because tight is 
trendy), nor her interest is reflected in police protocol, 
legal procedures or convictions. 

Fear of public exposure or public humiliation is 
another deterrent to seeking legal justice in rape 
cases. A rape victim may be harassed, ostracized, 
even ridiculed. The gang rape of Cheryl Araujo in New 
Bedford, Massachusetts and the public outcry against 
her decision to prosecute provides a tragic example of 
what pressure a community can exert on a victim. 

Cheryl was gang raped in a bar on a pool table amid 

cheering and shouts of encouragement from by- 
standers. After the trial where four Portuguese im- 
migrant men were convicted, thousands of Portuguese 
took to the streets, defending, they said, the honour of 
the Portuguese community. Cheryl Araujo, also of 
Portuguese descent, was forced to flee the community, 
amid death threats not from strangers but from people 
she knew. Despite a courageous effort to rebuild her 
life in Florida, friends said she always wanted to go 
home. She took her own life in a car crash two years 
later, December 14, 1986. Her lawyer summed up the 
feelings many women had when the trial was getting 
wide press coverage: "She had guts. She had courage. 
Not one in a million would have gone through that 

Given all these obstacles, it should not be surprising 
that rape has the lowest conviction rate of all crimes of 
violence. The low conviction rate points to another 
problem: the suitability of the punishment to the 
crime. In most countries, a rape conviction carries a 
possible life sentence which serves as a strong de- 
terrent for most juries to find the defendant guilty. 
One must remember that a rape trial is a carefully 
orchestrated scenario, in which the defence lawyer 
grooms the defendant to look like the all-Canadian or 
all-American man. This image does not correspond 
with the popular belief that a true rapist is a 'psycho! 
At the same time, an image of the rape victim as 'loose' 
is created by the defence. Juries often prefer to 
forgive what is portrayed as the indiscretion of the 
male, rather than to invoke such a serious sentence as 
life in prison. 

Page 32 

popular beliefs 
about rapists 

There is a striking difference between popular 
beliefs about rape victims and those about rapists. 
Beliefs about the rape victim carry implicit definitions 
of the nature of women and potentially apply to all 
women. Popular beliefs about rapists serve the opposite 
function. They define the motives and methods of 
rapists in a way that discourages men from identifying 
their own sexually aggressive behaviour. 

Another important difference between the two sets 
of popular beliefs lies in the degree of responsibility 
assigned to men and women for the assault. Beliefs 
about the victim either deny her experience as rape or 
assign the responsibility to her for causing the assault. 
Popular beliefs about the rapist absolve him because 
he is mentally deranged or sexually out of control and, 
therefore, not responsible for his actions. 

All of these beliefs discourage and may even prevent 
most men from critically examining their own sexually 
aggressive behaviour. 

1. The man who rapes is emotionally disturbed. 

This popular belief severely narrows the definition 
of who assaults and what is considered a sexual 
assault. Assaults by "sex maniacs" constitute a very 
small proportion of all actual rapes. Nevertheless, 
people tend to think of the "real" rapist as the 
psychopathic male. In this line of thinking, the only 
legitimate victim is one who has been raped by the 
psycho! All other varieties of sexual assault are 
perceived as mere consequences of provocative 
behaviour on the part of women. 

This belief absolves most men from considering 
aggressive sexual behaviour as sexual assault. If 
rapists are all psychopaths, then any mentally sane 
man who forces a woman to have intercourse can 
rationalize his behaviour with such lines as: "She 
really wanted it;" "She provoked me;" "If she didn't 
want it, it wouldn't have happened." 

Is this popular belief valid? 

If most sexual assaults are not perpetrated by 
mentally deranged men, then who are the perpetrators? 
Records of sexual offenders show that they are 
normal men with perhaps an above average tendency 
to express hostility or aggression. Amir's study of 
1,292 sex offenders in Philadelphia found very few 
men who had been medically diagnosed as mentally 
or emotionally disturbed. Less than 1% of rapists 
studied are classified as psycho-rapists. According to 
one large-scale study, 87% of convicted rapists had 
already been convicted of some crime by the age of 
twenty-six. About half of these previous crimes were 
sex offences. Although this information comes only 
from men who have been convicted, it is disturbing to 
learn their problems were apparent but ignored during 

Other data about men who sexually assault comes 
from a variety of sources. Information has been col- 
lected from men who were never officially caught, but 
later identified and interviewed by health professionals 
and other researchers. Rape crisis centres and other 
self-help groups have reports by victims with infor- 
mation volunteered by the rapist during the assault. In 
addition, data has been collected in studies, surveys 
and interviews of large numbers of men who, though 
not identified as rapists, admit to having used sexual 
coercion in their relationships with women. 

The information acquired is disturbing. In one 
study at Kent State University, 4% of the men inter- 
viewed said they used violence to obtain sex. Another 
27% admitted to using lesser degrees of physical and 

Page 33 

emotional force when a woman was not willing to 
have sex. In other surveys carried out across North 
America (usually in campus settings, including a 1981 
survey at the University of Manitoba) two-thirds of the 
men questioned admitted they would force a woman 
to have sex against her will and even commit rape, if 
they were sure they would not be caught or punished. 
Recent studies also show that the number of women 
who experience some form of sexual aggression in 
their lifetime is very high. A 1980 study at the University 
of West Virginia found 38% of the women surveyed 
had been victims of forced sexual activity. A random 
door-to-door survey in Winnipeg found 27% of the 
women had been victims of sexual assault. In 1972, 
the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration and 
the U.S. Census Bureau found equally high rates of 
sexual aggression when they polled 250,000 people in 
26 cities across the U.S. Obviously, the perpetrators 
of these acts of aggression are not all psychopaths or 
there would be a real epidemic of mental illness 
among the male population of North America! Sexual 
aggression is a much too common feature of our 
culture to be dismissed as an illness. This is why it is 
important to look at aspects of our society which 
promote and excuse sexually aggressive behaviour 
(see page 40). 

2. Men who rape choose victims they 
don't know. 

This popular belief, as the first one, limits the 
definition of what constitutes a genuine sexual assault. 
Under this premise, only assaults perpetrated by 
strangers qualify as legitimate. This belief implies that 
sexual aggression which occurs on a date, within a 
marriage or by a member of the victim's family is not 
real rape. Given that the vast majority of sexual 
assaults occur between people who know each other, 
this belief fosters suspicion about the legitimacy of 
most complaints. 

The belief that rapists only pick strangers encourages 
men not to look at whatever aggressive behaviour 
they might exhibit with women they know. They can 
rationalize their behaviour as the normal dynamic that 
occurs between men and women — sometimes women 
go along with their sexual advances, sometimes they 
must be forced into it. 

This misconception causes problems for women as 
well. They may avoid situations where encounters 
with strangers are possible and be unprepared to 
handle an incident where sexual aggression comes 
from someone they know. Women who accept this 
belief about rapists may become suspicious of men 
purely because they are strangers and therefore, lose 
opportunities to get to know men who are not threat- 
ening to them. 

This popular belief is also reflected in advice which 
parents passontotheirchildren. Children are cautioned 
not to take candy from strangers or to get into cars 
driven by strangers. Although this advice is well- 
meaning and worth following, the vast majority (50- 
75%) of the sexual aggression perpetrated on young 
girls and boys is by someone known to them — their 
fathers, step-fathers, foster fathers, male relatives or 
close friends of the family. To avoid speaking about 
this possibility is to leave children unprepared to 

handle those situations most likely to occur. 

To accept the belief that rapists look for victims who 
are unknown to them focuses concern on only a small 
portion of the assaults. It does not prepare women or 
children to effectively resist assaults by men they trust 
and from whom they may expect protection. 

Is this popular belief valid? 

Rape crisis centres and other social support systems 
for rape victims and their families have made it 
possible to get a broader picture of assault situations. 
A study of cases at an Ontario rape crisis centre 
reveals that 27% of the rapists were complete strangers 
to the victim; 23% were slightly known; 12% were 
dates, neighbours or co-workers; 23% were close 
friends, family members or friends of the family. The 
Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women 
reports that one third of assaults are by strangers. Of 
the women surveyed, one in six said she was assaulted 
by a man she thought was a friend. Talks with police in 
other cities in Canada have put the figure as high as 

These figures conf irrrrthat stranger rapes are only a 
small part of the larger picture. However, a large 
portion of cases that find their way to the police 
records are assaults by strangers. Survivors of these 
assaults are more inclined to take their complaint to 
the authorities, who are more likely to judge the 
complaint as legitimate. 

The minority of convicted rapists keep this popular 
belief alive in the minds of the public. For example, in 
a recent Canadian film, "This film is about rape", men 
stated that their victims were picked because they 
happened to be in the vicinity. Since only about 10% 
of assaults are reported to the police and since only a 
fraction of these result in conviction, it is misleading 
to assume that this is the dynamic for the majority of 

3. Men rape because they have uncontrollable 
sex urges. 

This popular belief portrays rape as a purely sexual 
act — an expression of frustrated sexual needs. It 
implies that the rapist is a victim of his own sex drive, a 
situation for which the woman often pays the conse- 
quences. This belief completely ignores the fact that 
rape is first and foremost an act of hostility against 

Like the belief that rapists are psychopaths, it 
relieves the man of any responsibility for his actions. 
In this belief, the fault lies in the very nature of male 
sexuality. This view, held by many, is often reinforced 
by our institutions. Judge Humphreys, in a case heard 
in the U.S., provides an unfortunate example of this 
reasoning. After issuing a six month suspended sen- 
tence to a young man convicted of raping two women, 
thejudgejustified the light sentence with the following 
statement: "You are at a difficult age and you were 
overcome by your own sexual desire." Humphreys 
suggests that the way this man expressed his sexuality 
is understandable, if not acceptable in point of law. 
Even though the verdict of guilty was rendered, there 
is an implied acknowledgement that men are often 
held captive by their own sexual needs. 

Page 34 

Acceptance of the popular belief that the male sex 
drive requires immediate and frequent gratification 
has serious implications for women: the female 
becomes little more than a passive recipient of the 
male sex drive. Women are put into the untenable 
position of being the caretakers of male sexuality. 
This belief gives women only two choices: satisfy the 
sexual needs of men or be prepared to handle the 
sexual aggression which will result from male 

Another implication which emerges from this popular 
belief is that women are somehow responsible for 
triggering this sex drive. Since the man in the myth 
has no control over his sexual feelings, the woman 
must exercise caution in her behaviour. Accepting 
preliminary sexual exchanges (such as flirting, kissing 
or touching) might lead the man to feel intense desire 
for sexual intercourse which could cause him to 
assault her to satisfy these desires. 

A study of male college students illustrates how 
men often blame women for their own actions. All the 
men admitted that they forced a woman to have 
intercourse against her will on at least one occasion. 
They justified their own behaviour by stating that, 
although rape had occurred in the legal sense, the 
woman was at fault because of her sexual conduct. To 
them, the woman's participation in sexual foreplay 
meant she was interested in sexual intercourse. Her 
resistance to the actual act was not seriously consid- 
ered, given the intimacy already achieved and the 
level of arousal experienced by the male. 

Both men and women must understand that sexual 
expression is controllable in both sexes and any 
person has a right to refuse unwanted advances at any 
point in a sexual exchange. 

Is this popular belief valid? 

The idea that the male sex drive is intrinsically 
intense and uncontrollable justifies sexually aggressive 
behaviour in men. While most men do not see them- 
selves as rapists, they often see women as the cause 

of their sexual frustration. Use of threats and force to 
maintain control over when and how sex occurs is a 
strong statement to women that they are to serve, not 
to complicate matters by having demands of their 

Numerous studies both in the U.S. and Canada 
reveal that most men who rape lead normal sexual 
lives. Many have regular partners or relationships 
which have an on-going and active sexual component. 
Evidence shows that though these men may not be 
sexually deprived, they do exhibit an above average 
degree of hostility and aggression. Battelle Memorial 
Institute's Law and Justice Study Center did a major 
study of rapes in five large cities for the U.S. Department 
of Justice. They found that the sexual acts to which 
women were subjected illustrated a strong hostility to 
women, rather than an intense expression of passion: 
shoving objects into the vagina, forcing the woman to 
perform fellatio with such force that she thinks she 
might suffocate, biting and burning various parts of 
the body. 

That the rapist is driven to act impulsively when the 
level of sexual frustration becomes intolerable has 
also been disproved. Amir's U.S. study of over 1200 
rape cases found 80% of rapes are planned in advance 
and are not merely a result of being carried away by 
sexual excitement. A resource manual from British 
Columbia reports that 58% of assaults by single 
assailants are premeditated, as are 83% of two assailant 
assaults and 90% of those committed by three or more 

These findings about how sexual assault actually 
occurs and the kinds of acts women are subjected to 
prove that rape is not a result of uncontrollable sex 
urges. The roots of sexual aggression lie in the roles 
men and women are taught in our society, not in any 
one person's sexual feelings or frustrations. 

Any man who forces his sexual attentions on any 
woman against her will is a rapist and should be 
identified as such. 

Page 35 

the origins of popular 
beliefs about rape 

Popular beliefs about rape, its victims and its 
perpetrators continue to exist even though they are 
not true. They have a powerful effect on the way we 
deal with sexual assault as a social problem. 

Where do these beliefs come from? What conditions 
in our history give rise to these beliefs? How are these 
beliefs maintained and reinforced in society today? 

Patriarchal ideology 

Popular beliefs about rape victims and rapists are 
modern day versions of thought and practice that 
originate in early forms of patriarchy. Patriarchy is a 
form of social organization marked by the supremacy 
of the male at the head of the family. This male 
authority structure includes the legal or socially 
recognized dependence of wives and children, and 
usually the reckoning of descent and inheritance 
through the male line. Social organization around 
principles of patriarchy is ancient, pervasive and often 
assumed to be natural law. 

Patriarchal ideology refers to people's way of thinking 
in this form of social organization. It integrates the 
assertions, theories and aims of patriarchy and 
promotes a certain body of concepts about human life 
and culture. In its deepest sense, patriarchal ideology 
is a world view where reality is based on male 
authority and dominance as a law of nature. 

A contemporary example of patriarchal thought 
and practice is the law that does not recognize rape 
within marriage (as is the case in most states in the 
U.S.). Putting the difficulty of proof aside, it means 
that a husband has the legal right to forced sexual 
intercourse with his wife at any time he chooses. She 
cannot bring a rape charge against him because, in 
legal terms, rape within marriage does not exist. 

When a woman is accused of precipitating a sexual 
assault ("asking for it"), what counts is how others 
define her behaviour, not how she sees it. This is 
another example of what we mean by patriarchal 

Freud's work, frequently interpreted as a prescription 
for the superiority of the male, a superiority vested in 
the penis, is a rich description of European patriarchal 
society at the turn of the century. It also describes the 
effects of patriarchal social organization on sexuality 
and the subconscious. 

Popular beliefs about rape victims imply certain 
assumptions about the nature of women. For many 
centuries, religious patriarchs were uncontested 
authorities in defining the nature of women. Though 
not the sole authorities, the popular beliefs we hold 
about rape victims and rapists are very much rooted in 
this religious tradition. 

Archetypal images of women: The perception of 
women held by the religious patriarchs centered 
around two archetypal images: virgin and whore. 

The virgin archetype is an ideal image. She is 
chaste, virginal, self-effacing and otherworldly. Should 
someone attempt to sexually assault her, she would 
resist with all her will and strength, even if it meant her 
own death. The Vatican has acknowledged two women 
who are examples of the virgin martyr. One is St. 
Agnes who lived during the 3rd century and died 
protecting her honour against the attempts of her 
assailant. The most recent example is Maria Goretti 
who died in 1902 at the age of 13, at the hands of a 
local farmer who tried to sexually assault her. An 
exalted example of the virgin martyr whose name is 
associated with miracles, she was beatified by Pope 
Pius XII in 1950. These ideal images suggest that the 
virtuous woman chooses death over assault — an 
unkind and cruel message to women. 

The second archetype of woman, the whore, refers 
to the Eve image. She represents an object of temp- 
tation for men. Some religious literature suggests that 
this is the reason woman was placed on this earth — to 
tempt and test the virtue of men. The woman who 
survives a sexual assault and who does not take her 
own life following the assault is likely to find herself 
aligned with this archetype. The following is a de- 
scription of the nature of this woman taken from the 
writing of a 14th century Dominican: 

"If a woman wantonly adorned to capture sould, the 
garland upon her head is as a single code of fire- 
brand of Hell is to kindle men with that fire; so too 
the horns of another, so the bare neck, so the 
brooch upon the breast, so with all the curious 
finery of the whole of their body. What else does it 
seem or could be said of it save that each is a spark 
breathing out Hell-fire, which this wretched incen- 
diary of the Devil breaths so effectually. ..that, in a 
single day by her dancing or her perambulation 
through the town, she inflames with the fire of lust 
— it may be — twenty of those who behold her, 
damning the sould who God has created and 
redeemed at such a cost for their salvation. For this 
very purpose the Devil thus adorns these females, 
sending them forth through the town as his apostles, 
replete with every iniquity, malice fornication." 

Page 36 

The roots of the first three popular beliefs about 
rape victims are in these patriarchal archetypes of 
woman. The virgin-saint and evil-temptress archetypes 
coincide with the 'nice girl' and 'loose woman' 
dichotomy. The 'loose woman' temptress is regarded 
as immoral and sexual. People often conclude that 
such women ask to be raped. The possibility of a 
non-consenting adult female evaporates in the very 
definition of woman, since consent is part and parcel 
of her lustful nature. 

Early forms of Roman Catholicism which defined 
women as lustful and malicious creatures often did 
not hold a man responsible for rape. Men who had 
forced sexual intercourse with these objects of temp- 
tation were morally condemned. They were seen as 
weak-willed persons, possibly in the clutches of the 
devil. They were not legally pursued, but had to make 
their peace with God and their priest. Only in cases 
where the woman was a virgin from the upper classes 
would an assault be legally defined as rape. 

Popular beliefs about rapists reflect this age-old 
thought. Today, we use psychological, rather than 
moral grounds to absolve the rapist of responsibility 
for his actions. The view that he is emotionally 
disturbed, that his sex drive is out of control or that the 
woman's provocative behaviour caused the assault 
are contemporary beliefs rooted in the past. 

The patriarchs of the Old Testament were also 
concerned with the question of consent in rape. In 
their view, rape could only occur under certain 

"If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto a 
husband and a man find her in the city and lie with 
her; Then ye shall bring them both unto the gate of 
that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that 
they die; But if a man find a betrothed damsel in the 
field, and the man force her, and lie with her: then 
the man only that lay with her shall die. " 

The Old Testament patriarchs limited the definition 
of rape to betrothed virgins and to rape that took place 
outside the city walls. It was assumed that, within the 
city walls, a woman could scream for help and get it. 

Within this same tradition, we can find the root of 
the fourth popular belief about rape victims — that 
women commonly report rape that has not occurred. 
The story of Potiphar's wife in the Old Testament 
provides one example. She lusted after Joseph, her 
husband's employee. When he rejected her advances, 
she accused him of rape. It is from such stories that 
the skepticism implied in this popular belief is derived, 
as are sayings as "Hell hath no fury as a woman 

Many examples of religious writings implicitly define 
the nature of woman along the lines of the archetype 
virgin, a saint to be revered, and the archetype 
temptress, an evil to be resisted and condemned. But 
why have women throughout the centuries put up 
with such definitions? One important answer lies 
within material conditions: historically, women have 
been the property of men. 


v* t **■&* 

^1^ *i 



Material conditions 

Page 37 

Although historically few men have been free persons 
(they or their services usually being owned by a 
privileged few), they could at the same time be 
propertied: they owned their wives and their offspring. 
Women were in the peculiar and unique position of 
being property items. An examination of legal codes 
in history reveals a picture of women slowly emerging 
from being regarded as property that could be bought 
and sold to becoming citizens in their own right. 

As with other property items, what determined a 
woman's value was culturally set. One of the most 
important measures of high property value in women 
has been chastity — innocence of sexual acts, thoughts 
and desires not virginal or sanctioned by marriage 
vows. The importance of chastity, found in many 
different kinds of patriarchal societies, varies according 
to the social level of the person concerned. For 
example, chastity is usually more important to wealthy 
members of society. 

Chastity is explained by some people as the fore- 
runner of the incest taboo; others describe its function 
as guaranteeing inheritance in the male line. What is 
relevant here is that historically men have owned 
women. The value of his property is diminished if she 
has sexual relations with anyone other than her 

As property items, women have had little power. 
They have not been in a position to influence or 
seriously challenge institutions which define them. 
Like other property, they could be stolen (and raped) 
by those who did not own them. In this crucial sense, 
women can be seen as passive recipients of patriarchal 

Though the historical condition of women as prop- 
erty has radically changed, rape laws based on a 
property relationship between men and women con- 
tinue to exist. In the past, and still quite pervasively 
today, rape, in the legal sense of the word, has only 
referred to forced sexual intercourse by a man who 
does not have a socially recognized relationship with 
the woman in question. (Though fathers have socially 
recognized relationswiththeirdaughters.theirsexual 
access is restricted by the incest taboo.) 

Some countries (Denmark, Sweden, Canada, parts 
of Australia and the United States) have now altered 
their laws to include the possibility of rape within 
marriage. But the husband who sexually assaults his 
wife is still seen by many as merely exercising his 
conjugal rights to his property. 

An historical example of another form of rape in 
which property plays a key role is the 'rape of reprisal' 
legally practiced in ancient Babylon. In legal terms, 
this practice did not involve rape but rather the 
equalization of the loss of property value of the victim. 
The father or brother of the victim was permitted to 
rape a woman of his choice who belonged to the 
rapist's family, thus balancing property loss. 

Rape of reprisal is no longer legally sanctioned, but 
it does continue to occur. Fathers and brothers of 
rape victims do sometimes seek revenge against the 
rapist and/or his family. 

A final example of the importance of property in 
defining rape is war. The rape of enemy women lays 
claim to the most valued and intimate property of the 
enemy. Rape in this context is both a strategy to win 
and a statement of victory between men. 


The popular beliefs about rape can be traced to the 
material condition of women as property items and 
the patriarchal definitions of women. These two 
forces interlock in four ways. First, as a property item, 
the woman was subject to her owner, be it her father 
or husband. As owner, the male exercised authority 
over the members of his household. This same authority 
structure was produced and reinforced by the religious 

Second, insofar as the property value of a woman 
was based on her chastity, restrictive prescriptions 
were imposed on her behaviour. Patriarchal ideology 
with its rigid definition of the nature of woman, 
imposed similar restrictions on the behaviour of 

Third, since her sexual behaviour was a measure of 
her property value, a woman who was sexually active 
outside of marriage had no value. This corresponds to 
the evil-temptress in religious teachings. The revered 
virgin, the opposite image, was not a sexual being. 

Finally, while the maintenance of property value 
(chastity) is crucial, it is also problematic. Women, 
unlike other property items, have the capacity for 
independent thought and action. This creates two 
unfortunate possibilities: first, that a woman might not 
protect her property value as vigorously as she 
should; and second, that she might 'cry rape', unjustly 
accusing an innocent man of "theft". Though the 
condition of women as property make these two 
problems mere possibilities, the image of woman as 
beguiling temptress makes the occurrence of these 
two problems quite probable. 

In this context we can best understand why the rape 
victim's sexual history is often seen as important to a 
rape case and why a legitimate rape case is defined in 
terms of who the victim is, rather than by the offence 

Past modes of patriarchal ideology restricted the 
concept of rape to a select group of women. The 
material condition of women as property limited rape 
to persons who did not have a socially recognized 
property relationship with the rape victim. Both of 
these factors have limited the legal definition of rape 
and have contributed to the popular beliefs about 
rape victims still common today. The belief that the 
rapist is a mentally disturbed person with an uncon- 
trollable sex drive is also rooted in this past and also 
limits our conception of rape. 

Page 38 


Socialization and society 

Many positive changes have occurred in the status 
of women and in relations between women and men. 
But patriarchal ideas about women and material 
conditions of women as property of men are part of 
our historical legacy. These ideas continue to exert a 
strong influence over our minds and our behaviour. 
This influence begins from the moment we are born 
and is reinforced throughout our lives by a process 
called socialization. 

Socialization teaches us how to behave in society. It 
is a process through which each individual acquires 
character traits and learns skills, values and attitudes 
for present roles and for roles one is expected to 
assume in the future. We learn these roles gradually 
from many different socializing agents. Some are 
obvious: parents, schools, religious organizations. 
Some are more subtle: films, television, story books, 
female and male role models that we observe in our 

Societies which are capitalist and patriarchal define 
roles, traits and values for their members which 
support capital and patriarchal interests. In our society, 
both women and men learn roles and values that 
support the subordination of women. These sex roles 
also tend to predispose women and men to coercive 
sexual relations. 

Despite some notable exceptions, we can safely 
generalize that females are socialized to be passive, 
submissive and nurturing. Females learn that love, 
approval and acceptance are contingent on exhibiting 
these character traits. Males are socialized to be 
aggressive, forceful and dominant. They learn to 
devalue 'feminine' characteristics in themselves and 
in others. Approval and success for males come from 
exhibiting 'masculine' characteristics. 

In the labour force we can see how these character 
traits support patriarchal and capital interests. So- 
cialized 'feminine' characteristics of passivity and 
submission make it possible to shunt women into job 
ghettos where work is low paid, menial, repetitive and 
closely supervised. 

Though economically useful, these feminine traits 
are not inherent in women. During World War 1 1, when 
the economy needed people to fill jobs vacated by 
soldiering men, women were encouraged to leave the 
home to fill these jobs. After the war when the men 
returned, women were pushed out of the skilled, 
higher paying jobs and back into lower paying service 
occupations. Day care facilities disappeared and the 
pop psychology of the day justified the move. The 
proper sphere for a woman was said to be in the home 
where her ultimate fulfillment would come from service 
to husband, children and community. 

Today, the high cost of living has pushed most 
married women into the labourforce. But forthe most 
part the positions they occupy ensure their economic 
subordination. Employers benefit by paying women 
less and offering them part time jobs with fewer 
benefits but higher productivity. The fact that North 
American women, as a group, earn 65% of what men 
do also assures their dependence on a husband. If the 
marriage or relationship dissolves, most women face 
life on the poverty line. 

Feminine characteristics — patience, ability to deal 
with repetitive tasks, passivity — have been cited by 
employers as reasons to hire women for menial 
lowpaying jobs. Collective resistance to this and other 
forms of inequality is made all the more difficult by the 
double workload women carry in the labour force and 
in the home. 

Many modern parents attempt to resist sex role 
stereotyping in the socialization of their children. 
Individual efforts should be applauded, but economic 
and political structures which profit from traditional 
sex roles present considerable barriers to thei r success. 

Page 39 

Sexual socialization 

Women and men are socialized to experience sexu- 
ality differently. This is linked partly to biology and 
largely to these socialized sex roles. 

For the female, the sexual socialization process 
teaches that sex and love and romance are crucially 
integrated. Females are taught to be 'means oriented' 
in expressing their sexuality. Women commonly desire 
sex as a means to a relationship, rather than as a goal 
in itself. Sexual and sensual expressions such as 
caressing, cuddling and intimate conversation are 
often as satisfying for women as the act of penetration . 
This is reinforced by the fact that to be desired by 
many men elevates her status as a woman. However, 
to have sexual experiences with many different men 
diminishes a woman's social value. 

In adolescence, girls learn that it is their responsibility 
to protect themseives from the pressures of male 

sexuality — from strangers who leer at them to males 
in their classrooms and work places who might try to 
take advantage of them. Women learn that their own 
sexual desires are mild in comparison to men's; 
therefore, they are responsible for staying level- 
headed, for controlling their own sexual urges, as well 
as the sexual urges of the men with whom they 
associate. When this is difficult to do, women often 
feel guilty and responsible for the sexual interest that 
is directed toward them. Many people believe that 
women should react assertively to avoid being sexually 
assaulted, but not with men close to them. 

Sexual socialization teaches the male a different 
view of sexual needs and gratification. Males are 
socialized to be 'goal oriented' in their sexual expe- 
riences. This means that sexual expression and gratifi- 
cation lie in penetration and ejaculation and need not 
be accompanied by love and romance. For men, 

Page 40 

sexual gratification frequently involves breaking down 
the resistance of the female. Seen as a sign of virility 
and manliness, many such 'conquests' earn a high 
peer group status for the sexually experienced male. 
Though boys are taught that 'nice' girls say "no" to 
sexual advances, they also learn that resistance can 
be overcome with coaxing and promises of love and 
commitment. Men are taught to fulfill their sexual 
needs either by girlfriends, wives or prostitutes. 

Over all, men learn that to express sexual interest in 
women is normal and healthy and that they need not 
feel responsible for the urgency with which they 
express it. Social norms not only give men permission 
to feel sexual interest, to seek sexual gratification, but 
they also hold women responsible for both stimulating 
and satisfying this sexual interest. 

These character and sexual traits are frequently 
defended as biologically determined and socially 
complementary. Such defences form part of the 
ideology of patriarchy and ultimately predispose 
women and men to the rape scenario. 

Socialization and sexual 

Women who have been successfully socialized to 
be passive, submissive and 'means oriented' in their 
sexuality are poorly prepared to handle unwanted 
sexual advances. Attributes of aggression, dominance 
and 'goal oriented' sexuality predispose men to exert 
physical and psychological force to overcome resis- 
tance to sexual overtures. 

When carried to the extreme, socialized sex roles 
make rape an act of conforming, rather than one of 
exception. In this sense, all women are potential 
victims of sexual assault and all men are potential 

This clash of roles and traits is particularly evident 
in date rape situations. Many men expect a woman 
who accepts dinner, flowers and other gifts to recip- 
rocate with sexual favours. The woman herself may 
feel responsible forgenerating, controlling or satisfying 
the sexual interest directed at her during the evening. 
Behaviour by the woman which shows acceptance 
and affection may be interpreted by the man to mean 
the he will be able to go to bed with her later in the 
evening. If the woman says "no" when the sexual 
move is made, and the man persists and coerces her, it 
is common for the man to feel that he has successfully 
seduced the woman and for her to feel that she has 
been raped. 

As the Women's Movement gains support, these 
roles and character traits are slowly eroding. Already, 
in the socialization process of young girls, we are 
beginning to see new patterns emerging. Girls are 
more often encouraged to be assertive and independent 
and to recognize their sexual rights. The socialization 
process of boys, however, has been more resistant to 
change. While human characteristics traditionally 
labelled 'masculine' are slightly more accessible to 
females, we have not seen a widespread movement on 
the part of males to claim some of those traits 
traditionally labelled 'feminine'. Such attributes as 
gentleness, nurturance and sensitivity are worth valuing 
and developing in all people. They are characteristics 
which are incongruent with coercive sexuality. 

Page 41 

the functions of 
sexual assault 

Popular beliefs about rape affect the social and 
legal treatment of sexual assault cases. Beliefs contain 
important messages to men and women about their 
respective sex roles. In this sense, sexual assault is 
not just a collection of isolated occurrences, but 
serves social purposes which go beyond the individuals 
involved. By examining the role rape plays in different 
social settings, we can understand the functions rape 
has in our society. 


The rape of slaves was common in the early history 
of the United States. The white slave-holder used rape 
in two ways. He commonly claimed sexual access to 
female slaves who had no right to give or withhold 
consent. He also paired male and female slaves for 
breeding purposes without the consent of the men 
and women involved. In this way, the slave-holder 
held exclusive rights to both the productive and 
reproductive lives of the subordinated people. 

A number of interests are served through these 
rapes. Rape served the slave-holder's economic in- 
terests. Arranging the pregnancy of slaves and gen- 
erating slave babies ensured a steady supply of 

Rape also affirmed the dominant position of the 
slave-holder. It was a concrete and effective expression 
of power, ownership and control. Rape destroyed 
family structure, lineage systems and the cohesion of 
the enslaved people. Through rape, the symbolic 
impotence of black men was ensured. 

That the slave-holder developed a deep fear of the 
black man during this period is not surprising. Having 
usurped the black man's rights, the white man essent- 
ially feared retaliation in kind. Mythsabout the sexuality 
of black people, especially concerning black men's 
desire for white women, emerged during this period. 

Expressions of these fears are still apparent today. 
The specter of the black rapist is real in the minds of 
many women. Thus, the conviction rate for blacks is 
higher than for whites. As well, economically dis- 
advantaged blacks do not have access to good legal 
counsel. Attributing violent or insatiable sexual drives 
to the males of another race is one way of continuing 
racism and has been a theme of bigotry for other 
non-white races as well. 

A function of the fear of retaliation from black men 
is its controlling influence on the behaviour of white 
women. The fear reinforces her dependence on hus- 
band, father or brother for protection. This latter point 
is important to women in general: it demonstrates 
how the idea that women require protection from 
dangerous men is created. In this case, white women 
require protection from black men; in the case of war, 
from enemy men; in contemporary society, from the 
psychopathic rapist. 


"This is my weapon (slap rifle); this is my gun 
(slap crotch). " 

Military chant 

"To the victor belongs the spoils and the spoils 
include women. " 

Susan Brownmiller 

Regardless of the reasons for waging war-greed, 
nationalism, religious crusades or liberation — rape 
has been a common and frequent feature of war. One 
of the earliest references to rape in war can be found 
in the Bible, Book of Judges, 19-21: a concubine 
belonging to a Levite is raped and killed. The tribes of 
Israel rise to defend the Levite's honour, slaughtering 
all women and most men in the guilty party's Benja- 
minite tribe. To restore peace, some one hundred 
women of a neighbouring tribe are set up to be 
captured and raped, to become the property of the 
remaining Benjaminites. 

In this ancient example, we can see three functions 
of rape. The rape of the concubine destroys her 
owner's honour. Rape then serves as a means of 
retaliation. Third, rape plays a conciliatory role, 
equalizing losses and restoring peace between the 
two tribes. 

A more recent example of rape in warfare strategy is 
provided by the tragic 1971 war in Bangladesh. In 
some army camps, Pakistani soldiers were shown 
pornographic movies before going into battle to incite 
them to rape Bengali women. In the few months 
duration of the war, an estimated 400,000 Bengali 
women were raped. Thousands of sexually assaulted 
Bengali women, unchaste symbols of dishonour, 
were banished and ostracized from their families and 
their communities. Through these massive rapes, 
Pakistani soldiers devastated the core of Bengali 
culture: the family and the community. When the war 
was over, the new government attempted to restore 
families and communities to pre-war stability by 
issuing a law proclaiming all rape victims of war to be 
national heroines. But because cultural and religious 

Page 42 

beliefs run deep, this law has only been marginally 
successful in reintegrating these women. 

Countless women have suffered at the hands of 
warring soldiers. Rape was common during the Amer- 
ican Revolution, World Wars I and II, the Korean War 
and the war in Vietnam. The chief functions of rape 
during war time are not the sexual gratification of men 
and the suffering of women but the claiming of enemy 
property. Traditionally, conquering armies claimed 
the property of the conquered and historically, women 
have been regarded as the property of men. The rape 
of enemy women is a statement of victory; through 
rape, the enemy claims the most intimate property of 
the men they wish to conquer. 

Rape is also a means of terrorizing political dis- 
sidents. In times of political turmoil, as in South 
Africa, parts of Central America, Chile, etc., political 
prisoners are often subjected to sexual torture. 

Rape may also serve to revenge the honour of a 
fighting people. A statement of virility, masculinity, 
power and ownership, rape is also a statement of 
humiliation and powerlessness to those who can't 
prevent it. A gruesome fact is that rape in these 
circumstances is primarily a message between men. 
The abuse of women is secondary to the warring 
men's affirmation of power, victory and ownership. 

Rape in Prisons 

Rape appears to be a common feature of prison 
society. In a prison setting, rape involves same-sex 
assault. Because of the prevalent attitude that prisoners 
get what they deserve, few attempt to study and 
change this situation. 

There are almost a million inmates in jails and 
prisons throughout the United States and some esti- 
mate that nearly 200,000 of these people have been 
raped and live in some form of sexual slavery. The 
situation in Canadian prisons is better, according to 
the John Howard Association. Jails are smaller and, 
where "prisoners councils" exist, some of the more 
blatant abuses are prevented by the inmates them- 

One common form of rape in prisons is quasi- 
consensual assault. This occurs when a new prisoner 
enters the jail. A frequent strategy for the new inmate 
is to seek protection from someone stronger, more 
influential and with better economic resources. In 
return for this protection, sexual favours must be 

given. Assault in this context underlines the power of 
some individuals and maintains the dependence of 

Prisoners who fear assault by other inmates can 
request protective custody. However, official channels 
for protection are often feared as much as assault 
itself. Since protective custody does not exist in 
minimum security prisons, anyone with a sentence of 
less than 2 years must be transferred to a medium or 
maximum security institution. Prisoners who wish to 
go this route are often required to name the person or 
persons they think might attack them. "Squealing" is a 
dangerous crime within the prison sub-culture, so 
many prefer to brave it out in the regular wings rather 
than "squeal" and risk harsher treatment from inmates. 

Wardens and guards working in prisons are aware 
of the occurrence of sexual assault among inmates. 
Some observers speculate that prison authorities 
sometimes allow rapes to occur to appease the tense 
and potentially explosive atmosphere that is inevitable 
when large numbers of people are isolated from the 
outside world. 

Although rape and assault maintain the power of 
some prisoners over others, anyone in prison for 
these crimes has very low status in the prison setting. 
Child molesters and rapists represent a fear of many 
men in prison that they are unable to protect their 
women and children while away from home. In the 
context of prison, assault in the outside world is a 
symbolic statement of the humiliation of one man by 
another through the violation of his property (wives, 
girlfriends and children). Often child molesters must 
be put in protective custody since their treatment by 
other prisoners could involve beatings, torture and 
even death. 

Some states in the U.S. have prisons which house 
mainly sex offenders. We have been told by people in 
the system that an offender who is not a child molester 
or a psychopathic rapist is rarely considered to be a 
"real criminal" by prison authorities. Often he will get 
transferred to a minimum security prison much more 
quickly than an inmate convicted of property crimes. 

Child Sexual Abuse 

Although sexual abuse of children has been a 
problem for years, serious exposure of its extent is 
recent. In both Canada and the United States, new 
research shows alarming statistics: 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 
5 boys experience some form of sexual abuse by the 
time they reach 18 years of age. In the United States, 
over 500,000 cases of sexual abuse of children are 
reported each year; an estimated 1,500,000 more are 
not reported. One long term research project even 
concluded that sexual abuse of children is 8 times 
more frequent than physical abuse. 

It is shocking but true that 75% of the abusers are 
the father, foster father, stepfather or another relative 
or close family friend who is in a position of authority 
over the victim. The abuse occurs in families of all 
economic, social and cultural backgrounds, and is 
rarely a one-time event. Research shows that the 
average period of abuse is 6-7 years and is often not 
revealed until many years after it has stopped. 

Page 43 

Confronting the sexual abuse of a child within the 
family is very difficult. Other members of the family 
may be unaware that it is happening. When it is 
revealed, there is usually a reluctance to take the 
matter to the authorities. Mothers are sometime silent 
accomplices to the sexual abuse of their children. 
Women who have been through this experience speak 
about feeling pulled between protecting the child and 
protecting the family from separation. Many avoid 
reporting sexual abuse because they fear their child 
will be further traumatized by having to testify in front 
of strangers. Even if the case comes before the justice 
or social welfare system, young sexual abuse victims 
are not legally recognized as witnesses. Often they 
are simply not believed. 

Sexual abuse of children by adult strangers has 
received more publicity lately. Sensational press 
coverage of missing, sexually abused and murdered 
children has prompted a wave of fear in many parents. 
TV programs and comic books about "street-proofing" 
children gives parents hope that they and theirchildren 
are taking some positive steps to prevent these 

The difficulty with which many parents approach 
the topic of sexual abuse often confuses the child. 
While it is important to discuss how a child can say 
"no" to advances by strangers, statistics show that the 
child is more likely to be confronted with a sexual 
advance by a family member or friend, an adult the 
child trusts and depends on for protection. A child 
who reacts strongly against demands from these 
adults can provoke a threat of punishment if the abuse 
is revealed. It is importantfor the child to know whom 
to tell should this occur. 

Although material is available on the motives of 
rapists of adults, we have little information regarding 
sexual abusers of children. Such factors as power, 
dominance, aggression and hostility are certainly 
important, but it is not clear if there are other motives 
as well. 

There is some speculation that incest may be an 
expression of sexual ownership. The question of why 
some men express that ownership through sexual 
coercion of children is still being explored. 

Research is currently under way to shed light on 
why some men are primarily sexually attracted to 
children and not to adults. Most treatment programs 
have very high failure rates, and those perpetrators 
who have been convicted and treated have a high rate 
of recidivism (committing the crime again). 

What is clear about child sexual abuse is the impact 
it has on its victims. Much like the sexual assault of 
women, child sexual abuse underlines the feelings of 
powerlessness which most children experience in the 
adult world. For young girls, abuse is a very early 
lesson in female vulnerability to the sexual demands 
of the men in their lives. ^ 

Like women, children often experience feelings of 
guilt about their sexual abuse. Many think they are to 
blame and have done something to deserve it. When it 
occurs within the family, the child may feel that 
compliance is important to keep the family together. 

Giving children the confidence and tools to reject 
sexual advances by adults is the focus of a growing 
number of concerned groups and individuals. Encour- 
aging children to talk about their experience is an 
important step in developing self esteem and learning 
the difference between positive and negative relation- 

Page 44 

Sexual abuse of the mentally 

Public attention has only recently turned to the 
sexual abuse of the mentally handicapped. A major 
barrier to knowing the nature and extent of this 
problem is the difficulty of gaining the confidence of 
the victims themselves. For many, sexual assault is 
just one more area of their lives in which they are 
exploited, abused and ignored. Although no substantial 
studies show the extent of the problem, groups such 
as the Canadian Association for the Mentally Retarded 
claim that most mentally handicapped girls experience 
sexual exploitation at some point. Their abusers are 
most often males in their lives — either in the family, in 
the neighbourhood or in the institutions they frequent. 

Until recently, legislation about sexual assault made 
it illegal to engage in sexual intercourse with people 
who were "feeble minded". A mentally handicapped 
person was assumed to be incapable of giving or 
withholding consent. Since 1983 in Canada, and in 
some states of the U.S., this section has been deleted 
and cases are handled under the same law as other 
sexual assault cases. 

But new laws are only a partial solution to the 
problems faced in the courts by these people. The 
legal system often reflects public attitudes. Many 
people still believe that the mentally handicapped are 
either over-sexed, asexual or unable to express their 

When pressing charges, the mentally handicapped 
sexual assault victim faces two major problems in the 
courtroom. The first is the question of consent. The 
alleged offender may claim that the woman consented 
to the act or even requested it. His lawyer may suggest 
that the parents or guardians forced her to lay 
charges. She is presented as someone who is caught 
between pleasing herself (wanting the sexual 
encounter) and pleasing those she depends on 
(pressing charges of assault). The question of consent 

is further complicated by the widespread belief that a 
mentally handicapped person is not capable of under- 
standing the consequences of her actions. 

The second problem the victim faces is the language 
and structure of the court process. Prosecutors rarely 
take time to learn how people with mental handicaps 
communicate their feelings and ideas. There have 
been rare instances where judges have allowed people 
close to the victim to act as interpreters during the 
trial. Because trials often take place many months 
after the actual incident, the majority of victims with 
mental handicaps do not remember the details of the 
assault and most cases are dismissed for lack of 

The sexual assault of mentally handicapped persons 
affirms their powerlessness in society. They are easy 
victims for aggressive bullies who act out their ag- 
gression without legal consequences. The difficulties 
which victims face in court keep them separate, 
different and isolated from other rape victims. 

Some parents, volunteers and professionals have 
begun training programs to diminish the isolation of 
the mentally handicapped and to prepare them to 
leave institutions and integrate into theircommunities. 
At the same time, there are risks involved when the 
mentally handicapped lead less sheltered lives. The 
possibility of abuse, neglect and exploitation increases. 
Some communities are forming groups for social/ 
sexual training to give people with mental handicaps 
the confidence to say "no" to sexual advances which 
could be either physically or emotionally harmful to 
them. These programs teach that sometimes a person 
must say "no" to someone in authority or to someone 
on whom they depend. 

Sexual harassment 

Unwanted and repeated sexual advances can take 
on many forms: lewd comments, touching, coercive 
intercourse. Although most often associated with 
employers and employees, sexual harassment is also 
experienced in other relationships. Itcanoccuramong 
co-workers. A group of males may taunt or harass a 
particular female employee. The first women to enter 
jobs which have been traditionally male terrain speak 
of sexual, and often insulting, comments from men 
they work with. 

Sexual harassment is also common in academic 
institutions. Some teachers use their positions of 
authority to coerce sexual favours from their students. 
The teacher's power to determine grades makes 
students vulnerable to such coercion. 

Within the health care field, sexual harassment also 
exists. Doctors and therapists have taken sexual 
advantage of their patients, often in a clinical setting, 
under the guise of treatment. Your doctor is supposedly 
someone who knows you quite intimately, is concerned 
about your welfare and acts in your best interests. In 
this context, sexual abuse is often repetitive, re- 
sembling incest in its dynamic. The patient/victim is 
often quite protective of the physician. She may 
eventually tell a female physician or therapist about it, 
but is rarely willing to denounce the perpetrator. 

Page 45 

Complaints which do get registered are rarely 
regarded as founded because the medical estab- 
lishment is reluctant to admit that sexual harassment 
occurs within its profession or that a complaint is 
serious. In one case which did make it to court in 
Quebec the judge proposed that rather than going to 
jail, the doctor be sent to an outlying, understaffed 
part of the province! Women within the health pro- 
fession and health groups in Canada are beginning to 
research the extent of this problem. 

The most common forms of sexual harassment are 
the comments and taunting women receive on the 
street. Whistles, propositions and sexual remarks 
serve to remind women of their vulnerability to more 
extreme forms of coercion like sexual assault. 

Although sexual harassment has been recognized 
as a real problem, resisting such abuse is not without 
its price. The Working Woman's Institute in the U.S. 
estimates that as many as 25% of all women lose jobs, 
promotions or raises because they refuse sexual 
favours. Other surveys show that as many as 48% of 
women who leave their jobs do so because of the 
stress that sexual harassment causes them at work. 

Some progress has been made in developing "due 
process" to handle sexual harassment complaints. 
Grievance procedures have been set up by businesses, 
educational institutions and government offices. The 
Human Rights Commission in Canada acts as a 
preliminary forum for hearing cases which may then 
be forwarded to the courts. The process is often long 

and difficult. Proving sexual harassment is not an 
easy task because it usually occurs in private. Often 
the case is reduced to one person's word against 
another's. Harassers might maintain that a firing or a 
failure to be promoted or to pass an exam is the 
woman's fault. The woman must show that these 
problems are due to sexual harassment and not 
incompetence. Previous work or course evaluations 
and testimony from other sexual harassment victims 
can discredit the employer's or teacher's claims. 

However, most victims of sexual harassment do not 
lodge complaints. They may fear that friends and 
coworkers will think they are over-reacting. They may 
suspect that nothing will be accomplished by the 
complaint. Only when women decide to leave a job or 
resist such abuse does its occurrence become publicly 

Coercive sexual advances are a statement of power 
and control in both a psychological and economic 
sense. The employer who coerces an employee into 
sexual favours affirms his power and control over the 
economic livelihood of that employee. The same is 
true of the teacher who withholds marks until a 
student complies with his sexual demands. The doctor 
or therapist who sexually harasses a patient reinforces 
his power and control over her health and well-being. 
Sexual harassment serves as an instrument of black- 
mail, reminding women of their tenuous position in 
occupational and professional structures and of their 
subordinate position in society. 

Page 46 

Summary: social functions 
of sexual assault 

Having examined the role sexual assault plays 
within different social settings, we see two general 
functions which rape serves in our society. The first 
has to do with its role in controlling women and in 
maintaining theirsubordinate position in society. The 
second function has to do with the role of sexual 
aggression in social relations among men. 

The control of women: A woman does not have to 
be a victim to be successfully controlled by the 
possibility of rape. Through the socialization process, 
women learn from an early age to control their 
behaviour and to be concerned about how their 
behaviour can be interpreted by men they encounter. 
In both thought and practice, our society practices 
"victim control". Ratherthan controlling the offenders, 
we take measures to repress and inhibit the free 
movement of women. 

Women who depart from traditional roles often 
forfeit the protection and recourse offered by the legal 
system. Their reports of rape will most likely be 
classified as "unfounded". If sexual assault occurs 
within the family or by someone known to the victim, it 
is the women's behaviour which is most often called 
into question. 

Rape in the social relations among men: The 
historical condition of women as the property of men 
is the basis for the role rape plays in men's relationships 
with each other. The sexual component of sexual 
assault is of little consequence: it is only a vehicle to 
express power, aggression and ownership. Even today, 
women are often seen as commodities which men 
may purchase or have for free. The element of 
conquest, often associated with male sexuality, is an 
expression of power. Although most men would not 
condone sexual assault, the popular concepts of 
"macho" and masculinity incorporate elements of 
sexual aggression. Sexual exploits are often part of 
the competitive nature of male relationships, which 
includes both the control of "my woman" and her 
protection from other men. 

Is rape inevitable? 

Many people believe that rape is an unfortunate, but 
inevitable feature of human society. This belief is 
based on certain assumptions about women, men and 
the relations between them. One of these assumptions 
is that rape occurs because of the biological differences 
between women and men. Biology does place physical 
constraints on every human being; however, the 
meaning of these biological differences and the way 
human beings behave in society is socially determined. 
Human nature, not fixed nor resistant to social change, 
is conditioned by the economic and political structures 
of society. 

Anthropologists have shown that there are societies 
where rape never occurs. The Arapesh of New Guinea, 
for example, have no concept of and no word in their 
language for rape. While we may not want to emulate 
this society in economic and political organization, 
the fact that rape is unheard of in this culture shows 
that it is not an inevitable feature of human society. 

Though we are historical creatures, we are not 
condemned to the past. We can organize for social 
change at both personal and social levels. At the 
personal level, individuals can challenge behaviours 
that promote male dominance and female subor- 
dination. At the social level, we can tackle aspects of 
our economic and political organization which rely on 
the inequality of men and women. On both levels, the 
Women's Movement continues to provide leadership 
and practical means for positive social change. 

Page 47 

social change 

Changing how individuals act toward each other 
and changing the social conditions which maintain 
unequal sex roles require different kinds of actions. In 
relationships, we are dealing with personal issues, 
looking tor individual solutions to problems, and 
learning to respect the feelings and needs of each 
other. In society, we are looking at public issues, 
searching for solutions to social problems and trying 
to create an environment that fosters equality. 

Before taking actions, it is important to know what 
needs to change. Sexism — prejudice and discrimi- 
nation based on gender — is a major problem which 
contributes to sexual assault in our society. Sexual 
assault will not be eliminated, nor treated as a gross 
act of deviance, as long as males and females are 
socially and economically unequal. 

Creative solutions 

It is not enough to speak about what we don't want. 
In order to change male and female roles from sexist 
to equal, we should think about how we can act 
differently. Below are some goals we can aim for in 
our relationships and in society to eliminate sexism. 

In equal sexual relationships, both partners express 
their sexual desires and, in turn, respect the sexual 
feelings of the other. Expressing emotion and feelings 
is good for the psychological health of both sexes. 

Page 48 

Making decisions as a couple or family is a cooperative 
effort; it is not the sole responsibility or prerogative of 
one person. Everyone's opinions and feelings are 
considered in the process. Maintaining a home 
(housework, finances, etc.) is the joint responsibility 
of all the people who live there. Parenting is a joint 
venture requiring the commitment of both the mother 
and father. Except for childbearing and breastfeeding 
— which occupy a relatively short period in a woman's 
life — other tasks can be learned and shared equally. 

These ideas are not easily practiced. Most of us 
were raised with traditional sex roles and responsi- 
bilities, and changing our behaviours often feels 
uncomfortable at first. Though men and women are 
not the same, true character differences only emerge 
when both sexes are treated equally. 

In a non-sexist society, all people have a right to live 
in conditions which promote health, security and 
individual growth. People have a right to walk alone at 
night and to go to public places alone without fear of 
being assaulted. All people have the opportunity to 
develop their physical strengths and abilities. All 
people have a right, even an obligation, to participate 
in the political decisions which affect their lives — 
rape laws, marriage laws, policies on job creation, 
taxes, price increases, etc. Payment for work reflects 
the time, energy and social value of the work being 
done. All people have a right to respectful work 
regardless of sex, race, religion or sexual orientation. 

Changing social structures and relationships re- 
quires both individual and collective efforts. Different 
people and groups choose different methods. Whatever 
the methods, involvement and realistic expectations 
are important aspects of effective social change. 

Involvement — Changing sexual attitudes and the 
conditions which promote these attitudes do not 
happen outside our personal lives. Social action 
cannot be relegated to meetings and demonstrations 
alone. Effective confrontation requires that these 
issues are addressed — within our sexual relationships, 
our work places, our families. Seeing the world as a 
changing entity means full time involvement. In this 
sense, no interaction between people is trivial. 

Realistic expectations — Short term changes must 
reflect long term goals. For example, struggling to 
place women in positions of power may result in more 
money in the pockets of a select few, but not for the 
majority who are still underpaid and overworked. 
Major social and personal changes take time. We 
must remember this when efforts seem to lead to little 

Below are several places where conditions of society 
and the roles of women and men are being discussed 
and confronted. This list is not exhaustive, nor is it 
applicable to all parts of North America. But it does 
give an idea of what can be done by people working 
for social change. 

Sexual assault centres 

Sexual assault centres are also called rape crisis 
centres in some places. As well as assisting sexual 
assault survivors, many centres provide a focus for 
social action. Most centres have public education 

programs, apply political pressure to government 
and lobby for legal reforms. 

The increased number of these centres indicates 
that traditional institutions do not offer the support 
and information women require and that women are 
prepared to define and meet those needs. 

As with other non-institutionalized groups, these 
centres depend on the involvement and interest of 
the public. Most are underfunded and rely on people 
to donate their time and energy to keep essential 
services going. Even centres that have managed to 
squeeze money from government and charitable 
groups still depend largely on volunteers. 

Like many centres run by women, most try to 
structure their organizations democratically so that 
volunteers and workers can participate in decision 

These centres in North America vary in their 
membership criteria. Some centres only accept 
women as volunteers. Some only accept women 
who are feminists. Others require that all volunteers 
have some expertise in self-defence. Still others 
have men involved in their counselling and 
educational work. 

Regardless of the style, the funding or number of 
people participating, these centres provide a 
context where people can get involved. These 
centres should be actively supported. 

The pornography debate 

Public debate about pornography and censorship 
has persisted for several years. Commissions to 
study pornography have been appointed in both the 
United States and Canada. 

The debate is focused on three areas: the 
definition of pornography, the effects of 
pornographic materials on people and methods of 
controlling its production and distribution. 

Page 49 

Definition: In any conversation on pornography, 
each person is likely to have her/his own definition 
of "hard core", "soft porn" and "erotica". 

Some feminist groups have defined the content of 
popular pornography as "hate literature". In this 
view, pornography degrades women and promotes 
the idea that women are mere sex objects to be 
used by men. These groups want pornography 
banned under laws such as those in Canada which 
forbid the distribution of literature promoting 
prejudice and discrimination against Jews, people of 
colour and other minority groups. 

Other groups distinguish between positive 
portrayals of sexuality and negative images — erotica 
and pornography. Positive images promote 
harmonious relations between the sexes. Gloria 
Steinem defines erotic material as reflecting "a 
mutually pleasurable sexual experience between 
two people who have enough power to be there by 
positive choice." This definition suggests that 
materials which show bestiality, sexual coercion as 
pleasurable, sex between a child and an adult and 
sexuality which is degrading to women, are negative 
and can be called pornography. 

U.S. obscenity laws define illegal pornography as 
that which appeals to prurient interests, presented 
in an offensive way, and/or lacking in artistic, literary 
or scientific value. In 1989, Congress passed Title III, 
a budget resolution for the National Endowment for 
the Arts. It defines obscenity as including 
"depictions of sadomasochism, homo-eroticism, the 
sexual exploitation of children," and sex acts lacking 
serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value 
when taken as a whole. 

Canadian obscenity laws refer to the "undue 
exploitation of sex" or sex in conjunction with crime, 
horror, cruelty or violence or threats of violence. In 
Feb. 1992, the Supreme Court of Canada further 
defined "undue exploitation of sex" as explicit sex 
with physical violence or threats of violence; explicit 
sex without violence but which subjects people to 
degrading or dehumanizing treatment, if the risk of 
harm is substantial; and sex that involves children. 

In June 1993, the Canadian government passed a 
"Kiddie Porn" law which prohibits possession of 
photos of a child's sexual organs or anal region for 
sexual purposes, of children involved in sexual 
activity, and written material counselling sexual 
activitiy with children. 

The effects of pornography: What we learn 
about sexual expression and relationships from 
pornography is not clear. Some sexual offenders 
admit that they read pornography in search of 
techniques to use on their victims. However, most 
porn users are not sex offenders. 

One study found that people repeatedly exposed 
to non-violent pornography develop an increased 
appetite for watching sexual activities involving 
pain. But the study does not explore if this occurs 
because of curiosity or if these people behave 
differently in their sexual relationships because of 
what they have seen. 

Another study involving male and female college 
students showed that those exposed to heavy 
amounts of pornography suggested lower 
sentences for convicted rapists. The group not 

exposed to pornography consistently suggested 
higher sentences. 

In the United States, members of the Meese 
Commission, which studied and made recom- 
mendations on the problem of pornography, are 
divided on the question of its effects. Their report 
concludes that most pornography "bears some 
causal relationship to the level of sexual violence, 
sexual coercion or unwanted sexual aggression." 
Two commissioners who questioned this conclusion 
were women. 

In February I992 the Supreme Court of Canada 
ruled that though it is impossible to establish a 
direct link between exposure to pornography and 
violent crimes, such material is nonetheless harmful 
to society. In their unanimous ruling, the 9 Justices 
also referred to "the negative impact exposure to 
such material has on perceptions and attitudes 
towards women." They conclude: "If true equality 
between male and female persons is to be achieved, 
we cannot ignore the threat to equality resulting 
from exposure to audiences of certain types of 
violent and degrading material." 

Though some have praised the Supreme Court of 
Canada decision as "world historic", the Canadian 
Civil Liberties Association fears that it will turn cops 
and customs officials into the censors of Canadian 

How the law will be applied is uncertain. What is 
certain, is that all people do not react in the same 
way to pornographic material, nor do they use these 
materials for the same reasons. Because of the 
difficulty of isolating the effects of pornography from 
other social and sexual experiences, most social 
scientists are wary of drawing definite conclusions 
about its effects. 

Methods of control: There is some consensus 
that public display of pornographic materials and 
advertising should be restricted in our society. 
Wrapping materials in plain covers, putting them out 
of the reach of children and curbing what can be 
shown on cinema billboards are some regulations 
that have gained widespread public support. 

Page 50 

Controlling production and distribution of 
materials is more complicated. Many fear that 
banning pornography would foster the growth of an 
underground industry. There is also fear of 
censorship spreading to include art, sex education 
and materials that depict anything but traditional 
heterosexual sex. 

Funding agencies have already begun to censor 
art by refusing grants to some artists. After 
controversy over the works of Andres Serrano and 
Robert Mapplethorpe, the U.S. Congress passed 
Title III, which included homo-eroticism in their 
definition of obscenity. Since October 1989, funding 
from the National Endowment for the Arts or the 
National Endowment for the Humanities may not be 
granted to such work. 

Consistent guidelines for control are also a 
problem since enforcement of regulations is usually 
left to regional authorities. Standards, definitions 
and interpretations vary greatly from one area to the 

In April 1992, the Toronto police raided a gay 
book store and seized all copies of a lesbian erotic 
magazine containing depictions of sadomasochistic 
sex. The charges faced by the store owner and 
manager carry fines up to $5000 and 2 years in jail. 
The trial is set for autumn 1 992. Montreal police say 
that the Feb. I992 Supreme Court definition of 
obscenity has not changed their approach to 
pornography. They act only on complaints and do 
not actively pursue violations of the law. 

Regulating pornography requires careful consi- 
deration. We need to know more about why people 
use pornography, what purpose it serves in their 
lives and how it affects sexual relationships. We 
need more "erotic" material on the market — material 

that reflects the joyous pleasures of safe sex 
between consenting adults. We need more materials 
which appeal to both women and men. We need 
material which celebrates sexuality rather than 
degrading material which exploits the sexual 
loneliness of people. 

Sex education 

In parts of Canada and the United States, some 
groups are fighting against sex education in the 
schools. These people fear that sex education promotes 
sexual relations among the young and gives them the 
message that sex at any age is good as long as it is 
safe. Prohibiting classes and discussion is not the 
answer to these problems. Often, sex education 
courses are the only source of accurate information 
for young people. Talking about related issues like 
sexual assault, the effects and choices of birth control , 
sexually transmitted diseases, etc., is necessary if 
people are to make informed decisions about their 
social and sexual lives. 

Self defence 

Many groups across the continent are effectively 
confronting the sexual violence directed at women 
and children with special self-defence courses (see 
page 00). These courses — Wendo, Action, Women's 
Self-Defence, CAP (Child Assault Prevention) — 
address the specific vulnerabilities of women and 
children to sexual attacks and provide effective, easy- 
to-learn verbal and physical strategies to handle 
assault situations. 

Women's self-defence groups should be actively 
supported. They provide a very positive response to 
a widespread social problem. 

Take back the Night, Montreal, Quebec, 1S82. 

Montreal Health Press 


1 . Do you use "a book about sexual assault" 

Regularly? Occasionally? Rarely? 

2. How do you use the book? as a ... 
resource in your centre? 
hand out to students? 

part of a discussion group with survivors of sexual assault? 
a resource for class assignments? 

What are the book's overall strong points? 

What are its overall weaknesses? 

5. Would you prefer the book to have less theory and more practical information or do 
you like the balance? 

6. Are there any groups of women (such as lesbian women, native women, women with 
disabilities) which the book does not represent or whose particular needs are not 
addressed? Can you provide a resource as part of your suggestion? 

7. Is the reading level appropriate? Should it go up or down or stay the same? 

8. Are the illustrations helpful? Should there be others? 

9. Are the photos appropriate? appealing? inclusive? Do they balance the text? 

10. Are there any new books or articles you feel we should consult? 
(Please provide enough information so that we could find them) 

11. Are there particular people or groups you feel we should consult? 

12. Do you think we cover the following topics adequately? 





a. Preventive behaviours 

b. Self -defence 

c. The actual assault 

d. After the assault: emotional support, medical 
care, deciding to report the crime, etc 

e. Assault laws in Canada 

f. Assault laws in the U.S. 

g. Psychological impact about sexual assault 

h. Popular beliefs about assault victims 

i. Popular beliefs about rapists 

j. Patriarchal ideology 

k. Material conditions of women 

I. Socialization 

m Sexual socialization 

n. Functions of sexual assault 

o. Child sexual abuse 

p. Sexual abuse of women with disabilities 

q. Sexual harassment 

r. Partner abuse 

s. Date rape 

t. Social functions of rape 

u. Pornography 

13. Other comments: 

14. Can you estimate how many handbooks you might order in one year (see price list)? 

15. Would you be interested in reading and commenting on a draft copy of future revisions? 

15. The Montreal Health Press added two pages of advertizing space in recent editions of 
our handbooks on birth control and STDs. Ads were purchased by community groups, 
unions, health services and drug companies. 

a) How do you feel about such "advertising" in future editions of our handbooks? 

b) How would it influence your decision to use our books? 
C) Are certain advertisers more compromising than others? 

So that we can send you your copies of the revised handbook, please note your: 




Thank you again for you support. 

other materials 

also available in French 

a book about 

STD handbook 

birth control 




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J Montreal Health Press 


"A Book about Menopause is clear 
concise, illustrated with informative 
drawings and good photographs 
and unwavening in its bid to in- 
crease the confidence of women in 

The Gazette - Fitness & Health 
Montreal, Quebec, Canada 

"The STD Handbook stands with- 
out equal in the US.... The book 
speaks with clarity, in an explicit 
language, with modern relevance to 
young, sexually active persons 
regardless of ethnicity and back- 

Michael Ritchey, Director 
Cincinnati Health Department 

"We use this booklet often, knowing 
the information is reliable and com- 
prehensive. It is obviously put toge- 
ther with care." 

Choice Clinc, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 

Our publications are an important and useful 
resource. Bulk rates are available. 

Poster Kits 

Female and Male Anatomy 
Birth Control Methods 

Ideal visual aids on anatomy, sexuality, birth control and 
reproductive health. Each kit contains 5 (16" x 24") pos- 
ters. Printed in brown on white, they are carefully de- 
signed to be medically accurate, non-sexist and aesthet- 
ically appealing. 

See inside cover for ordering instructions. 

Reading List 

Stopping Rape: Successful Survival Strategies, Pauline 
Bart & Patricia O'Brien, Pergamon Press, Willowdale, 1985. 

Fight Back — A Self Defence Handbook and Freeing 
Our Lives — A Feminist Analysis of Rape Prevention, 

Intrepid, National Project to Prevent Violence against 
Women, Clearinghouse, PO Box 02084, Columbus, 
OH 43202. 

Against Our Will, Men, Women and Rape, Susan 
Brownmiller, Simon & Schuster, NY, 1975. 

The Secret Oppression: Sexual Harassment of 
Working Women, Constance Backhouse, MacMillan, 
Toronto, 1978. 

Ivory Power: Sexual Harassment on Campus, Michele 
Paludi, ed., SUNY Press, Albany,1990. 

Battered But Not Beaten: Preventing Wife Battering in 
Canada, Linda Macleod, Can. Advisory Council on the 
Status of Women, Box 1541 Station B, Ottawa Ont. 
K1P5R5, 1984. 

Dating Relationships: A Guide to Recognizing Abuse, 

F. Williams & H. C. Catalano, Yellow Brick House, York, 

Voices from the Shadow: Women with Disabilities 
Speak Out, Gwyneth F. Matthews, Women's Educational 
Press, Toronto, 1983. 

No Is Not Enough; Helping Teenagers Avoid Sexual 
Assault, C. Adams, J. Fay & J Loreen-Martin, Impact 
Publishers, San Luis Obispo, 1 981 . 

What to do if a Child Tells You of Sexual Abuse, 

Justice Canada, Communications & Public Affairs, Ottawa, 
Ontario K1 A 0N8. 

The Mouse, the Monster and Me — Assertiveness for 
Young People, Pat Palmer, Ed. D., Impact Pub., Sans Luis 
Obispo, CA, 1984. 

The Montreal Health Press 

We are a collective of women who produce 
and distribute handbooks on health and 
sexuality. Our approach is non-judgmental 
and comprehensive — empowering people 
to make their own informed decisions on 
these important issues. 

The Montreal Health Press made history in 
1968 by publishing the first Birth Control 
Handbook at a time when the distribution 
of birth control information was still illegal 
in Canada. 

Since then we've produced handbooks on 
sexually transmitted diseases, sexual 
assault and menopause. Millions of 
copies in both French and English have 
been provided to people through clinics, 
community centres, women's groups and 
schools throughout North America. 

Our publications are revised regularly 
to include current technical developments 
as well as social and political changes. 
We are proud to celebrate 25 years of 
health education with this edition of 
Sexual Assault.